The N.C. Republican Party has filed a campaign finance complaint against N.C. Supreme Court Democratic candidate Anita Earls over an ad produced by her campaign that’s now being broadcast by a dark money group.
NCGOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse has asked the state elections board to investigate “apparent illegal cooperation between the Earls for Justice Committee and the independent expenditure committee NC Families First.”
The complaint points to a 30-second biographical video posted to Earls’ campaign YouTube page. It’s now being run on TV stations by the group NC Families First, a 527 tax-exempt group that was also active in the 2016 Supreme Court race with ads opposing Republican Justice Bob Edmunds.
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Campaigns can’t legally coordinate activities with outside groups like NC Families First.
“The Earls campaign is benefiting by having its video which it produced aired across the state by an independent expenditure group that can fund the ad statewide,” Woodhouse wrote in the complaint. “NC Families First benefits by having the Earls for Justice campaign nearly entirely defray the production costs for the advertisements and is clearly promoting a particular candidate for state office. This brazen coordination has no immediate precedent in North Carolina history.”
But Michael Weisel, an attorney representing NC Families First, said the use of the publicly available ad material is perfectly legal. “Dallas Woodhouse needs to have his attorneys review GOP complaints before he files,” Weisel said in an email. “Even if every statement in his complaint were accurate, which they are not, there are no election law violations!”
He says NC Families First did get the video for its ad from Earls’ YouTube page, but it didn’t coordinate or communicate with her campaign.
“Usage of this raw video footage is specifically permitted under North Carolina election law and is not coordination or a coordinated expenditure,” he said.
Numerous campaigns have posted photo and video materials online where they can be downloaded by outside groups; the N.C. House Republican caucus has hours of “b-roll” video footage of its candidates posted on the website Vimeo, although none are pre-produced ads.
Caroline Spencer, a spokeswoman for Earls, said the campaign wasn’t involved with NC Families First. “We are running a campaign that blends strong grassroots organizing with modern communications, including promoting ads online,” she said in an email. “We have no control over what third parties choose to do independently with our ads, which tell the story of a candidate who will work to ensure an independent judiciary that is fair to all.”