A mysterious outside group is investing heavily to thwart Republican Rep. Walter Jones' final bid for Congress.
Americans United for Values has spent more than $45,000 on direct mail against Jones. The group is a super PAC that has gotten most of its money from American Policy Coalition, a nonprofit that does not have to disclose its donors.
Americans United for Values has reported five different independent expenditures against Jones since March 29, according to Federal Election Commission records. It is the group's only spending in 2018. The group spent more than $92,000 on direct mail and advertising unsuccessfully opposing Rep. Ralph Norman, a South Carolina Republican, in a 2017 special election.
The mailers tie Jones to Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, echoing attacks made by one of Jones' opponents.
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Jones, seeking a 13th term representing Eastern North Carolina, faces Craven County commissioner Scott Dacey and Marine Corps veteran Phil Law in a three-way Republican primary on Tuesday, May 8. No other candidate is running for the seat, making it all but certain that the GOP primary winner will represent the district in Congress.
American Policy Coalition has donated more than $678,000 to four super political action committees this cycle, according to FEC reports. The group made headlines in 2016 for funneling money to groups that opposed Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz of Texas and gave $2 million to support Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.
"They have a way of doing business which keeps donors secret and the public in the dark and the people on the receiving end of the direct mail don't know who is coming after them," said Matt Corley, the chief investigator at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "It's very much using it as vehicles to get around the disclosure and the spirit of disclosure and the voters have no way of knowing."
A message left for Americans United for Values was not returned.
It's not the first time Jones has been targeted by outside spending. In 2014 outside groups spent more than $532,000 opposing Jones, who won the GOP primary by less than 2,600 votes.
In late March, CREW called on the IRS to investigate American Policy Coalition for failing to file a 2015 tax return. The group, once called BluegrassVotes.org, Inc. and headquartered in Kentucky, changed its name in 2016 and is now based in Montana.
In 2016, the Congressional Leadership Fund — a super PAC affiliated with House Speaker Paul Ryan — donated $85,000 to Americans United for Values. Jones often votes against Republican leadership in the House. The CLF has new leadership for the 2018 election cycle and it "does not and will not get involved in Republican primaries," a spokeswoman said.
"I'm not going to say it's Ryan's money," said Jones' campaign manager, Doug Raymond. "I looked at them to make sure there wasn't an obvious connection. I'm not going to spend my time digging around trying to connect the dots (to leadership). I'm just not going to do it."
Several House conservatives have lined up to support Jones, including Rep. Mark Meadows of Western North Carolina. Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, endorsed Jones, and the Jones campaign has used Meadows in television ads to help shore up Jones' conservative credentials. Other Freedom Caucus members, including Jim Jordan of Ohio, Ted Yoho of Florida and Justin Amash of Michigan, have donated to Jones.
"Meadows is a rock star down here," Raymond said.
Dacey said Jones' voting record does not line up with the Freedom Caucus and said Meadows' support comes because he "is hunting for votes should he decide to run for speaker."
Through April 18, Jones raised $350,508, slightly trailing Dacey's $378,186.
Jones has received $23,350 from Realtors or real estate professionals, more than two-thirds of it from out-of-state donors. The National Association of Realtors PAC has contributed $2,000.
Dacey said the real estate industry is donating because Jones voted against the Republicans' tax cut plan which lowered the amount of interest homeowners could deduct on their federal taxes. The law also doubles the standard deduction, so fewer homeowners may choose to itemize and use the home interest deduction.
"It's a big, fat, wet kiss from Realtors all across the United States. Thank you very much for voting against our president," said Dacey, who has sought to cast himself as President Donald Trump's biggest advocate in the race.
Dacey, a federal lobbyist for Native American tribes, has received more than $41,000 from tribal and gambling-related donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That total ranks him 15th in the country among all House candidates. Dacey worked for the National Indian Gaming Commission in the late 1990s.
The Jones campaign has tried to portray him as "DC Dacey," for his ties to Washington, and played up his connections to the gambling industry. Dacey said he doesn't work for casinos and that only a small part of his work for the tribes is gaming-related.
Law finished second to Jones in the 2016 GOP primary. He has loaned his campaign $70,000 and raised less than $16,000 from outside sources.