Legislative leaders, Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein were among 37 candidates that were fined because they accepted illegal campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer’s political action committee.
The state elections board hasn’t yet recorded fine payments from eight of the campaigns and from Pfizer, even though the deadline was a month ago.
The contributions totaled $53,500 and were dated during the legislature’s session, when PACs are prohibited from making campaign contributions to state office holders or candidates seeking those offices.
The campaigns of House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, both paid $3,500 last month to the state’s forfeiture and civil penalty fund, which goes to public schools.
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Moore’s treasurer, Amy Ellis, wrote in a letter to the state elections board that the campaign was unaware that the Pfizer checks were dated during session because they were received after the session ended. Ellis seemed to take issue with the elections board investigators’ finding, writing that “we do not understand how a check can be considered a ‘contribution’ under Chapter 163 until it is actually received by a committee.”
Most of the illegal Pfizer contributions occurred in June 2016 and October 2017, when the legislature held an extra session. Each campaign was notified in early May that they must forfeit the amount of the contribution, and Pfizer was notified in April that it must pay a $53,500 fine.
Cooper and Stein’s campaigns each paid a $5,000 forfeiture.
Campaigns were given 30 days from the date of their May 10 letter to pay the fines, but elections board records don’t yet list payments from Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, Sen. Kathy Harrington, R-Gaston, former Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus, Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, and Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union.
Others who received improper Pfizer donations but have already paid their forfeitures include the campaigns of Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, former Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, former Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, Rep. Robert Reives, D-Lee, former Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, Rep. Ed Hanes, D-Forsyth, former Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham, Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne, Rep. Josh Dobson, R-McDowell, Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, Rep. Chris Malone, R-Wake, Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, and Rep. William Brisson, R-Bladen.
This week, the N.C. Republican Party alleged a similar type of campaign violation involving a PAC donation during the recent legislative session.
The GOP’s complaint filed with the state elections board says Democrat Darryl Moss, a candidate for House and the mayor of Creedmoor, had improperly received a $2,600 contribution from Our Shot PAC on June 25. NCGOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse wrote that the party “requests a timely investigation into potential campaign finance violations.”
Our Shot is a PAC with ties to Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, that aims to elect more Democrats to the legislature.
While not mentioned in the NCGOP complaint, Our Shot’s campaign finance report lists June 25 contributions to five other Democrats running for the legislature: Erica McAdoo, Brandon Lofton, Sydney Batch, Ray Russell and Terence Everitt.
A spokeswoman for Our Shot said the session limitations don’t apply to the group. “Our Shot NC is committed to complying with all campaign finance laws,” Jackie Dzau said in an email. “Our understanding of the current statutes on the limitations on fundraising during Legislative session is that PACs are prohibited from making contributions if they employ or contract with lobbyists. We have no relationship with lobbyists, therefore, the basis of the complaint is not applicable to our PAC.”