Morning Memo: Thom Tillis embraces new GOP donor group

Posted by John Frank on February 19, 2014 

Republican Thom Tillis is poised to get huge financial support from a new political group – but while it could boost him in a potential general election contest against Democrat Kay Hagan, it may become an issue in the GOP primary.

Led by New York billionaire and GOP donor Paul Singer, a group known as the American Opportunity Alliance has created a fundraising committee called the Friends for an American Majority. It will bring together major donors, many of whom “share Singer’s support for gay rights, immigration reform and the state of Israel,” according to a Politico report.

Singer donated about $10 million to gay rights groups since 2010, the D.C. publication reported. He also supports the Club for Growth, another conservative political group.

Tillis is one of four U.S. Senate GOP hopefuls that the group intends to support and the House speaker is expected to attend a two-day retreat at a posh Colorado resort at the end of February.

Jordan Shaw, Tillis’ campaign manager, confirmed the candidate is embracing the group and intends to travel to the retreat. “He is working hard and traveling anywhere folks are gathered in the interest of winning a conservative majority in the US Senate,” Shaw said.

He added: “Conservatives all around the country recognize the importance of beating Kay Hagan and achieving a majority in the Senate and that’s why they’re backing Thom Tillis.”

So far, the organization has funneled about $530,000 to three other candidates it is supporting, Politico reported, citing Federal Election Commission documents.

***Get the latest on the upheaval in the North Carolina Senate campaign below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will make an economic development announcement at an unannounced location in Guilford County at 10:30 a.m. and then tour the 3M plant and meet with executives at 2 p.m. in Moncure.

ELLMERS TO TALK IMMIGRATION: U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers’ recent embrace of an immigration plan to allow people in the country illegally to gain legal work status is the drawing fire from her conservative primary opponent.

It’s an issue the Dunn Republican has been trying to avoid but she will walk into the middle of it Wednesday as she moderates an immigration forum in Cary.

The groups at the meeting – from the Farm Bureau to ImmigrationWorks USA – are on Ellmers’ side of the equation but it force her to talk about where she stands as well. It starts at 9 a.m. at the Embassy Suites on Harrison Oaks Boulebard in Cary.

GOPAC TO ENDORSE TILLIS: Another Republican group is betting its money on Tillis, as part of a program to “call up” state lawmakers who run for federal office. Politico reported Wednesday that GOPAC is backing the House speaker. The endorsement further shows how establishment support is lining up behind Tillis’ campaign.

THREE STRIKES FOR GREG BRANNON: The news that a pro-gay rights donor and an establishment PAC are backing Thom Tillis is just the kind of ammunition tea party favorite Greg Brannon uses to persuade conservative voters that he is the better choice for the GOP nomination.

But Brannon is facing strike two and three against his campaign, just as he hopes to raise $150,000 to air TV ads and capitalize on a bro-love fest with Glenn Beck.

The first came in late 2013, when he admitted that he reviewed material his campaign website plagiarized from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

The second came Tuesday, when WRAL reported that he hadn’t paid his $8,779.19 property tax bill until the TV station brought it to his attention.

And the third overshadowed them all when a jury decided Brannon bore sole responsibility for giving misleading or false information in 2010 to investors and found him liable for more than $250,000 in damages. Ahead of the trial, Brannon sounded defiant, telling reporters he looked forward to his day in court. But it didn’t go as he planned.

Brannon said the ruling won’t affect his decision to run – but it provided plenty of material for those looking to take him down.

MORE FROM THE COURTROOM: The political cost of the verdict remains unknown.

Brannon slumped his head and looked downward as the verdict was read in Wake County Superior Court. As he left the courthouse, Brannon said he would appeal to “defend my integrity.”

“Very clearly I think that the way the court worked, it was not fairly on our side,” Brannon said. “I cannot wait to go to the appeal process.”

An appeal means the case will continue to color his underdog campaign for the Republican nomination. But the tea party candidate – who appeared by phone on conservative firebrand Glenn Beck’s radio show while jurors deliberated down the hallway – said the verdict won’t affect his campaign.

“No way,” he said. “I’m not stopping.” Read more here. Video of Brannon reacting outside the courtroom. See it here.

REACTION FROM WASHINGTON: Tea party challengers self-destruct once more. Read more here.

MARK HARRIS GETS ENDORSEMENT: No big surprise here, but the National Organization of Marriage announced Tuesday it is supporting Charlotte pastor Mark Harris in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. NOM pushed the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage along with Harris.

“Mark Harris has proven himself to be a champion for marriage, life and religious liberty. He not only talks the talk, he walks the walk,” said Brian Brown, NOM’s president, in a statement released by the Harris campaign.

Democrats responded to the endorsement by focusing on the organization’s controversial comments about homosexuality. “North Carolinians deserve leaders focused on jobs and the economy, not this sort of divisive, fringe rhetoric,” said Ben Ray, a Democratic spokesman.

GOP OPPOSITION RESEARCH SITE RELAUNCHED -- TARGETS HAGAN: From Politico -- The Republican opposition research firm America Rising PAC has relaunched its website to read and perform like a news site, a move that is indicative of an ongoing shift in the way political organizations approach the web.

... To promote the relaunched site, America Rising has taken out Google Ad buys so the first link under certain Democrats’ names will direct readers to the PAC’s candidate profile. The four ad buys are for congressional hopeful Alex Sink (Fla.), incumbent Rep. NIck Rahall (W.Va.), and incumbent Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Kay Hagan (N.C.) Read more here.

#NCPOL ---

ANOTHER HEADACHE FOR McCRORY -- FIRED CLERK STORY GOES VIRAL: The firing of a grocery store clerk who told Gov. Pat McCrory “thanks for nothing” is getting national play.

And now this: Drew Swope, the cook who was fired from his job at Reid’s Fine Foods after a Sunday confrontation with Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, said he has had a handful of job offers, including help from Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon.

Cannon, a Democrat, said he talked to Swope on Tuesday to see whether he could help him find a new job in the private sector.

“To lose a job is nothing that someone wants to do,” Cannon said. “I felt that I would do what I could to help him along the way, if I could make something happen. I have a few leads for him to help him continue being a contributing citizen of Charlotte.”

Cannon said he didn’t want to jump in the middle of the controversy and said he hasn’t spoken to McCrory about the incident. He said he was only trying to help one of his constituents. Read more here.

SIERS CARTOON: McCrory’s complaint. See it here.

WHAT GOV. McCRORY RATHER TALK ABOUT: From Rob Christensen’s column -- North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory literally suited up for his first big natural disaster crisis last week – shedding his coat and tie and donning a green work shirt with an emergency management logo to conduct news briefings on the big snowstorm.

Extreme weather may be a harrowing experience for most of us, but for governors, mayors (and local TV anchors) it’s showtime – when they can demonstrate their leadership in a nonpartisan setting at a time when most people are paying attention.

... It is too early to tell whether there will be long-term political benefits for McCrory. Read more here.

DUKE ENERGY SPILL CONTINUES: More than two weeks after a massive leak of coal ash from a Duke Energy power plant poured into a river along the North Carolina-Virginia border, the full extent of damage to the environment is still unfolding.

On Tuesday, state regulators said a second stormwater pipe at the company’s plant is spilling elevated levels of arsenic into the Dan River. And federal officials issued their first assessment of the disaster, raising the specter of long-term harm to aquatic life, reaching as far as Kerr Lake. Read more here.

DEMOCRATS FOCUS ON TAKING GOOLSBY’S SEAT: From the Wilmington Star-News -- With former Democratic state senator Julia Boseman’s decision to bow out of the race for state Sen. Thom Goolsby’s 9th District seat, it becomes more likely that Democrats will rally around one candidate – former New Hanover County school board member Elizabeth Redenbaugh – and avoid a bloody primary. Read more here.

CLAY AIKEN, KEITH CRISCO SQUARE OFF: Aiken said he is running because he is frustrated with politicians who seem to court voters only to abandon them when they get to Washington. He said he has always been interested in politics and he believes he can engage more people to get involved in the 2014 general election.

Crisco joked, as a long-time member of the community, he needed to try hard to come up with something new to tell the audience about himself. He reminded the audience of his rural upbringing that took him from Aquadale to Harvard and eventually the nation’s capital as a Washington Fellow. He said, as a moderate, he is best qualified to serve.

AIKEN AND CRISCO SUPPORT HEALTH CARE LAW, WITH CAVEATS: When asked about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Crisco said the cost of healthcare in the U.S. is a problem. He said ACA is very large and was enacted very fast. But he said repealing it is not the answer. The solution, he said, is to fix it.

Aiken agreed the measure should not be repealed. He said, when ACA is explained to people, the majority favor key provisions like no caps on benefits and keeping children on parents’ policies until age 26. Read more here.

CLAY AIKEN GASPS! Clay Aiken’s congressional campaign sent an email to supporters this week upset that a tracker followed the candidate to his first campaign outing in Harnett County.

The campaign said it reflects how “entrenched special interests and our opponents will be doing all they can to stop it” and used the development to ask supports for more money. (The campaign said it raised $100,000 in the first week.)

But what it really means: Welcome to politics. Opponents on both sides of the political aisle send trackers to follow candidates, looking for possible gaffes or missteps. The Aiken tracker came from America Rising, a Republican opposition research firm, not directly affiliated with any candidate.

AUDIT FINDS MISUSED MONEY: An internal audit of the state’s Community Development Block Grant program found $397,171 was misappropriated by Michael Walser, an employee of the community planning and engineering firm Hobbs, Upchurch and Associates. Read more here.

STATE DATABASE IS OUBLIC RECORD: AP -- A three-judge panel says North Carolina's criminal records database is a public record and the court system must disclose it when requested, even though the information comes from local courthouse documents.

A Court of Appeals panel largely overturned Tuesday a lower-court decision that had sided with the Administrative Office of the Courts and Wake County's Superior Court clerk. Read more here.

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