Politics & Government

Dan Forest campaign forfeits $15,000 due to campaign finance violations

N.C. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican who plans to run for governor in 2020 against Democrat Roy Cooper, has been forced to forfeit thousands of dollars due to campaign finance violations.

An audit of Forest’s campaign by the North Carolina State Board of Elections found numerous violations. In all, Forest resolved the audit by giving up more than $15,000. (An initial version of this story put the number at more than $10,000 based on preliminary calculations.)

Most of that was forfeited to the state government. Another $251 was returned directly to individual donors.

Forest campaign spokesman Andrew Dunn said the forfeitures were due to simple errors, not anything malicious.

“The important thing to realize here is that any campaign raising a significant amount of money will have these types of ‘violations.,’” Dunn said. “They generally involve somebody whose in-kind and check/credit card donations go over the limit per cycle. These donors typically don’t realize that they’ve exceeded the limit. In other cases, PACs will just send in money without realizing what the state laws are.”

Most of the money the Forest campaign had to forfeit came from conservative groups that operate in federal politics but weren’t properly registered to get involved in state politics. That included $5,000 from a group whose name appears to have been listed as a misspelling of the EnergySolutions Inc. Fund For Effective Government, which supports electric utility companies, $2,500 from the Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion, and $500 from a group called Citizens for Constitutional Liberties.

The rest of the forfeitures were due to donors who gave the campaign more than the legal limit.

The campaign was able to keep some of those donors’ money, after their spouses came forward and said the excess donations were actually from them. But that was not the case for all the donors.

In all, the $15,000 is only a small percentage of the more than $1 million the Forest campaign had in its account as of last month, after raising $1.3 million in the first half of 2019.

And both of Forest’s main competitors for the governor’s race so far — Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican Rep. Holly Grange — have also had some violations of their own and had to forfeit money, Dunn said.

“Roy Cooper’s campaign has already forfeited $5,350 due to campaign finance violations. Holly Grange’s campaign has forfeited $3,160,” Dunn said, referring to money turned over in 2018 and 2019. “If you read the audit report, you’ll see that the SBOE notes that the Forest campaign has already fixed these violations. This is standard campaign bookkeeping and accounting.”

Most of the money Cooper’s campaign had to pay back was a $5,000 forfeiture in June 2018. The drug company Pfizer gave money to Cooper — and a number of other politicians, WRAL reported at the time — while the legislature was in session, which was a campaign finance violation and required the politicians to forfeit the money to the state.

State campaign finance records don’t show any recent audits into the Cooper campaign similar to the one just published into Forest’s campaign. But State Board of Elections spokesman Pat Gannon said the state is in the middle of auditing Cooper’s campaign.

As for Grange, her campaign had to forfeit the $3,160 in question earlier this summer due to bookkeeping errors regarding the handling of cash by the campaign.

The 2020 primaries are only about seven months away, with Election Day falling on March 3. It’s unclear if Cooper will have a Democratic challenger, or if any Republicans other than Forest and Grange will jump into the race.

As the candidates gear up for the coming elections, Cooper is leading the fundraising race — although what the candidates themselves raise promises to be only a small part of the overall campaign spending in 2020, as outside groups will likely also spend millions supporting their favored candidates.

As of June 30, according to campaign finance filings, Cooper’s campaign had $5.6 million in the bank, Forest’s campaign had $1 million and Grange’s campaign had $55,000.