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This shadowy group has links to GOP. So why is it telling Democrats to run for judge?

A tweet by Wake County Commissioner John Burns on Saturday, June 23, 2018.
A tweet by Wake County Commissioner John Burns on Saturday, June 23, 2018.

In an apparent attempt to dilute votes for the North Carolina Democratic Party's endorsed candidates, a shadowy group linked to Republican consultants is sending mailers "recruiting Democratic lawyers to run for judge."

Wake County Commissioner John Burns, a Democrat, tweeted photos of the mailers over the weekend. "North Carolina needs strong Democratic voices on the bench for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals," the mailer says under an image of Uncle Sam.

The group behind the mailers and an associated website is calling itself The Alliance for Fairness in Justice. The group's IRS registration form lists former N.C. House Republican Caucus Director Jim Burton as its primary contact.

Burton is no longer on the NCGOP staff but works as an independent political consultant for Republican candidates, including N.C. House candidate Bobby Hanig's campaign. He did not respond to an email inquiry Sunday.

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The other two people listed on the IRS form are out-of-state political consultants, including Ted Prill of Texas-based KAP Strategies, which has worked for the N.C. Chamber in the past. The Chamber said Monday that it's not involved in judicial races and isn't connected to The Alliance for Fairness in Justice.

The judicial candidate recruitment group has not filed any disclosure forms with the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, according to the agency's online database. The Alliance's website includes a link to donate and promises potential candidates that the group is "here to help you," but the donation page says "there are no available payment methods for your state."

Both the state Democratic and Republican parties have endorsed their preferred candidates for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. But because judicial primaries were canceled by the legislature this year, anyone who's at least 21 and licensed to practice law in North Carolina can run in the general election with their party affiliation listed. Having multiple Democrats on the ballot if there's only one Republican candidate could boost the GOP's chances of victory.

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As of Friday afternoon, only the endorsed candidates of the two major parties had filed to run for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals races. The filing period runs through Friday.

Chuck Kitchen, the GOP's endorsed candidate for one of three Court of Appeals seats, said the group is not connected to his campaign. "I had not heard of this group until your email, so I am not in a position to comment on what they may or may not be doing," he told a reporter Monday.

"We don't know the people involved. We only heard about this through what the media has reported. We encourage you to ask the folks involved with this group these questions," said Jefferson Griffin, another Republican-endorsed candidate for Court of Appeals.

Campaigns for other Republican statewide judicial candidates did not immediately respond to inquiries Monday.