Auction is auditor Beth Wood's last 2012 campaign fundraiser

jfrank@newsobserver.comDecember 6, 2012 

At first glance, it looks like the most unusual campaign fundraising pitch ever. Especially for a Democrat.

A natural mahogany mink coat, softly lit like a campaign commercial, sits comfortably on a chair in a shady grove.

In an era of austerity, nothing says excess like a fur coat. And the empty chair is now officially a political icon.

But the image has nothing to do with the 1 percent or Clint Eastwood. It’s a family heirloom being auctioned by State Auditor Beth Wood to pay her campaign debt.

The Democrat inherited the mink coat a year ago when her mother died.

“She gave me my first $1,000 when I decided to run in 2007,” Wood says. “Now, this is her last contribution.”

More and more, politicians are resorting to quirky tricks to get tired donors to give money to campaigns. (Secretary of State Elaine Marshall even used her mother’s 92nd birthday to ask for $9.20 donations.) But Wood’s approach may count as the most peculiar.

Wood says the coat is too big for her, and no one else in the family wanted it. So she’s auctioning it – along with other items – on eBay, and advertising it on her personal Facebook page. She calls the event her final 2012 campaign fundraiser.

The auction, which ends Friday, includes Carolina Hurricanes memorabilia, an iPod and jewelry.

There’s a 3.5-carat white gold ring, with cross rows of round diamonds and two rows of baguette diamonds underneath. It’s Wood’s – a size 7 – but she doesn’t wear it. The appraised value is $7,690, but the highest bid Wood can accept is $4,000 – the maximum campaign contribution allowed.

Wood, 58, easily won a second term as the state’s fiscal watchdog in November, beating Republican Debra Goldman. She spent about $500,000 with the help of public financing.

But she still needed to retire about $12,000 in debt from her 2008 campaign. Wood went deep into the hole in her first campaign and took out a $57,000 bank loan to cover the bills.

She owes herself about $2,000, and her first campaign manager is still waiting for a $10,000 check. Her campaign debt also contributed to her being late in paying her property taxes in 2009.

The online auction of personal items is a quirky way to raise campaign cash, she acknowledges. The idea came from her finance team (“a committee of several women”) who devised the plan after seeing nonprofits use it successfully. Friends and relatives donated items for the auction – her brother offered a full-day charter fishing trip on the coast. Value $750.

“You can’t buy an audit in this office, so we are looking for ways to raise money that keep that perception away from my race,” Wood said. “An online auction helps get you there.”

The total raised so far is about $600.

As for the coat, the eBay bids reached $132.50 on Thursday evening. It’s hip length, and her mother’s name, Betty A. Wood, is embroidered inside. It was a gift from her father.

Even if it fit Wood, fur coats aren’t exactly a political asset for either party.

Former President Richard Nixon, in his infamous Checkers speech, declared that his wife didn’t own one. “I should say this,” Nixon said, “that Pat doesn’t have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat. And I always tell her that she’d look good in anything.”

Staff writer Austin Baird contributed to this report.

Frank: 919-829-4698

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