Some nonprofits could have risked their tax-exempt status by running political ads in North Carolina this year, according to a study from The Center for Public Integrity.
The study looked at the trend on a national level, but the first example cited in the report involves a state Senate race in northeastern North Carolina.
The center found that the environmental nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council spent $700,000 to attack incumbent Republican Sen. Bill Cook.
The ads – which included one criticizing Cook for supporting a bill allowing other states to send garbage to North Carolina – aired more than 2,600 times from mid-April through mid-July.
The commercials never mentioned Cook’s Democratic opponent, and the group says the messages weren’t related to the Senate election.
Also this year, NRDC partnered with other nonprofits as the North Carolina Environmental Partnership. That entity ran 5,100 ads worth $1.7 million against eight state legislators, the study found.
Triangle TV viewers will recall those ads: They memorably dubbed Republican Sens. Chad Barefoot, Wesley Meredith and Ronald Rabin as “the fracking crew.” The commercials went off the air a few months before the election.
NRDC defended its efforts. “We were incredibly careful,” campaign manager Rob Perks told The Center for Public Integrity. “During primary season, we only chose subjects of the ads to be people who ran unopposed in primaries or had no primaries of their own so that we wouldn’t run afoul of any electioneering activity.”