Under the Dome

Morning Memo: New super PAC’s intentions unknown

A South Carolina-based Republican operative has launched a new super PAC called the North Carolina Golden Crescent Fund but its intentions remain unclear.

The organization, founded Feb. 25, is run by Norman Cummings, a longtime GOP hand who once worked for Lee Atwater and served as a consultant to a controversial super PAC called Citizens for a Working America.

Reached at his home in Beaufort, S.C., Cummings declined to describe his interest in North Carolina politics or the focus of his super PAC. The organization can solicit unlimited donations for independent efforts to promote candidates or issues. Federal Election Commission records offer no clues about the group’s funders or platform.

“Right now, we’re just getting established,” said Cummings, who is listed as the Golden Crescent Fund’s treasurer.

Pressed on his purpose, Cummings vaguely suggested the organization may not focus on the state’s marquee U.S. Senate race, saying “there is life outside the election.”

North Carolina, he added, “is “a place where a lot of stuff is going on.”

The only other name on the filing is Nicole Dimperio Howard of Huntersville, who is assistant treasurer. Howard is a registered Republican who gave $350 to former state Rep. Grey Mills, who lost a bid for lieutenant governor in 2012, according to state campaign finance records. Howard did not return a message left at her home.

Cummings worked for years in Virginia and on a controversial slot machine campaign in Ohio, according to a Huffington Post report that analyzed his other super PAC, Citizens for a Working America.

From the story: “For someone who has been in Republican politics for so long, Cummings is far from a national figure. Starting with the Ohio Republican Party, he worked his way up through the ranks to serve under famed operative Lee Atwater on George H.W. Bush's presidential campaign. From 1989-1992 he was political director and then chief of staff for the Republican National Committee and in 1992 he started the public affairs consulting firm, the Cummings Group.

“After that, the public record goes largely dark, until he and his wife Grace co-wrote a chapter for the 2004 book, "Campaigns and Elections American Style" in which described, in glowing terms, the "pervasive" need to raise money in politics.”

Cummings personal contributions to North Carolina candidates are limited. In 2000, he gave $4,000 to Democrat Richard Moore’s campaign for state treasurer, state records show.

The Citizens group has made plays in campaigns in Ohio, Tennessee and South Carolina, as well as the 2012 president race. In the South Carolina race, the group targeted Democratic U.S. Rep. John Spratt with $250,000 in TV ads.

In 2012, it announced it was going to back Rep. Michele Bachmann in the GOP primary for president but later contributed to Mitt Romney’s effort. Another Huffington Post report looked at the scrutiny the PAC received in 2010 for “questionable fundraising ... and the questionable political activities of its staff and funders.”

It is still active, FEC reports show, and lists the same Beaufort address as the Golden Crescent Fund. At the end of 2012, the Citizens group reported spending about $900,000.

The organization is named for the half-moon arching connection between the state’s three major areas, the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte.

*** An overflowing Dome Morning Memo is below with more headlines and analysis from North Carolina politics.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will sign a proclamtion for National Guard Heritage Month at 9 a.m. in Raleigh and later attend a career event at 6:30 p.m. in Mooresville about “life after high school.”

BULLETIN -- Utah Sen. Mike Lee endorses Greg Brannon. Read an interview with Lee on the endorsement here.

ALSO -- THOM TILLIS’ NEW AD: Politico got a preview. See the ad here.

TILLIS’ FIRST STATEHOUSE CAMPAIGN DRAWS RENEWED SCRUTINY: |Republican Thom Tillis is returning to the story of his political roots as he campaigns for the U.S. Senate. “I’ve only been in office since 2007,” he said after filing his candidacy papers last week. “I served for a small time in the town of Cornelius. I was PTA president eight years ago.”

The effort is designed to portray Tillis as the candidate who can deliver results and push back against his label as the establishment candidate.

But it also highlights his start in state politics in 2006 when he ousted conservative lawmaker John Rhodes in a GOP primary – a campaign under renewed scrutiny from some conservative activists, a population key to the primary and one that is skeptical of Tillis.

“He challenged a sitting Republican in the primary,” said Sharon Hudson, a tea party activist now seeking the same seat representing House District 98. “People have not forgotten that.”

--THE RICHARD MORGAN FACTOR: Rhodes made a name for himself as an outspoken critic of then-Democratic House Speaker Jim Black ... and then-Republican Speaker Pro Tem Richard Morgan, a toxic name in GOP circles for having cut a power-sharing agreement with Democrats years earlier.

In a recent interview, Morgan recalled his desire to see Rhodes defeated. “I talked to Thom in the early days,” Morgan said, “and offered my encouragement.”

“From that point on I thanked him profusely for getting rid of John Rhodes in the General Assembly, who was just a pain in the butt,” Morgan said.

--TILLIS REJECTS SUGGESTION: Tillis’ campaign is aware of the unrest about his political start and dismisses it. Through a spokesman, Tillis said he only met Morgan once and not until 2010.

Morgan “did not recruit Thom, he was not an ally and he was not involved at any level,” Tillis campaign manager Jordan Shaw said of the 2006 race.

Told of Morgan’s comments, Shaw later added: “Any encouragement that was given was not a factor in the speaker’s mind and certainly doesn’t constitute recruitment.” Read more here.

BIG NEWS TO HELP KAY HAGAN: AP --Warding off the specter of election-year health insurance cancellations, the Obama administration Wednesday announced a two-year extension for individual policies that don't meet requirements of the new health care law.

The decision helps defuse a political problem for Democrats in tough re-election battles this fall, especially for senators who in 2010 stood with President Barack Obama and voted to pass his health overhaul.

The extension was part of a major package of regulations that sets ground rules for 2015, the second year of government-subsidized health insurance markets under Obama's law — and the first year that larger employers will face a requirement to provide coverage. Read more here.

RELATED: From The Hill -- The White House took the rare step of naming more than a dozen Democrats it worked “in close consultation” with ahead of a Wednesday announcement about changes to the Affordable Care Act. (Not among them: Kay Hagan.) Read more here.

GOOD ANALYSIS: Breaking down the U.S. Senate hopefuls. Read it here.

THE BIG STORY -- COAL ASH SPILL EFFECTS BEGIN TO MATERIALIZE: From Fox 8 -- Dead clams and mussels dot the Dan River Bank for at least 20 miles, according to the Dan River Basin Association.

A toxic coal ash spill into the Dan River at the beginning of February from a Duke Energy site in Eden is causing concern miles downstream.

Danville resident Morris Lawson first discovered piles of dead mollusks at the Dan Daniel Memorial Park and reported it to river officials. “They’re laying everywhere,” he said. Lawson is the same man who found two dead turtles in the river several weeks ago. “This is going to get worse before it gets better,” he insisted. Read more here.

RELATED: NC NAACP leader calls coal ash spill a sin. Read more here.

ANOTHER BIG STORY -- Photo IDs now required for those seeking unemployment benefits: The photo ID era is about to begin – for state unemployment benefits.

Next week, the state Division of Employment Security plans to start sending notices to newly unemployed workers informing them they have four weeks to present a photo ID, such as a driver’s license, at their local Division of Workforce Solutions. Both agencies are part of the state Department of Commerce.

The new photo ID requirement, which initially was targeted to begin Feb. 1 but was delayed, is aimed at preventing fraudulent claims from being filed by people who steal someone else’s identity. Read more here.

McCRORY CAN’T COMMIT TO BROAD TEACHER PAY HIKE: Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday he’d like to improve salaries for all of the state’s educators eventually, including veteran teachers, community college instructors and university faculty. But he said that will depend on the state’s future revenue picture.

“We cannot make that commitment until we know the money is available.”

--MORE SALARY ISSUES: N.C. Community College System President Scott Ralls said his instructors are in the same boat as public school teachers. He said North Carolina community college faculty rank 41st in the nation in salary, about 30 percent behind the national average and 10 percent behind Southern states. Read more here.

CARTOON: State Budget Director Art Pope as Vladimir Putin. See it here.

TILLIS, BERGER AVOID WITNESS STAND: An attorney representing protesters arrested at the N.C. Legislative Building in June, attempted to call the leaders of both General Assembly chambers on Wednesday as witnesses in the trial of seven people.

John McWilliam, a Raleigh attorney representing some of the demonstrators arrested June 12, said he issued subpoenas for N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Phil Berger to find out more about the enforcement of the building rules his clients had been accused of violating.

A lawyer from the office of Roy Cooper, the N.C. attorney general, successfully quashed the subpoenas for the Republicans at the helm of the state House and Senate. Read more here.

AMERICAN SPECTATOR: The conservative publication has a special report on the UNC Poverty Center and Gene Nichol under the headline: John Edwards’ Successor Lives It Up. Read more here.

ROUZER GETS ENDORSEMENT: The 60 Plus Association, an AARP alternative group, endorsed former state Sen. David Rouzer’s congressional bid. Read the press release here.


Ellmers: GOP’s Obamacare replacement may be multiple bills. Read more here.

Pittenger: “Let’s get Putin out of Russia” Read more here.

N.C. still trying to clear jobless backlog. Read more here.

New Democratic strategy goes after Koch brothers. Read more here.

McCrory says more changes to come in transportation. Read more here.

North Carolina leads South with drug overdose reform. Read more here.

N.C. may make it easier for students to pass state exams. Read more here.

Durham schools to join teacher tenure lawsuit. Read more here.