A new nonprofit organization is raising money by selling admission to join Gov. Roy Cooper and key members of his administration in events focused on topical issues for North Carolina.
Moving N.C. Forward was not formed to support Cooper’s political ambitions, according to president Tom Hendrickson. It presents itself as a nonpartisan group that wants to encourage public discussion of current issues. Those issues, like jobs and schools and fair electoral districts, coincide with goals that Cooper has promoted since taking office in January.
“We do think it’s going to create a vehicle where we can have dialogue on relevant policy issues, make sure we have an ability to have folks understand a little deeper than the 30-second blurbs some of the substantive issues of our state and move forward,” said Hendrickson, a former state Democratic Party chairman.
On June 29 and 30, the group will meet at Pinehurst Resort to hear from Cooper, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon, and state Budget Director Charlie Perusse. Attorney General Josh Stein will also be part of the program.
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Moving N.C. Forward was formed in late December, and held its first event with Cooper and his leadership team during a two-day event at the Umstead Hotel in Cary in March. Contributions were set at four levels from $10,000 to $100,000.
A flier for that event said the state was “at a crossroads.”
“Moving N.C. Forward is focused on supporting and advocating for policies that advance economic growth, strengthen public education and promote a welcoming, inclusive business environment – regardless of political party,” it read.
As a “social welfare” tax-exempt nonprofit organized under an Internal Revenue Service code, Moving N.C. Forward can only spend less than half of its money on politics. Social welfare groups were typically used for civic organizations but in recent years have become part of the chain of what open-government watchdogs call “dark money.”
They do not have to publicly disclose their donors, whose money often passes through the nonprofits and ends up as contributions to super PACs – which are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to support or defeat candidates.
Democrats and Republicans both benefit from the system. Former Gov. Pat McCrory’s supporters formed a similar group soon after he was elected in 2012.
“This is a type of entity that others have used, for good or ill,” Hendrickson said. “We believe ours will be for the good.”
One advantage that nonprofit social welfare groups have is that they can raise money at a time of year when the governor, other statewide elected officials and the General Assembly cannot – like now. North Carolina prohibits campaign contributions from political action committees and lobbyists to those politicians while the legislature is in session.
The General Assembly has been in session since January, and is not expected to adjourn before July.
Moving N.C. Forward reported to the secretary of state’s office that it anticipated raising $500,000 in 2016-17, with $150,000 spent on communications and fundraising.