Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Two super PACs supporting Tillis join forces

A super PAC launched by donors who House Speaker Thom Tillis helped appoint to a UNC governing board launched a $100,000 ad campaign this week to boost his U.S. Senate campaign, just as early voting starts.

Grow NC Strong’s minute-long radio advertisement – which is airing statewide and particularly aimed at news/talk stations – calls Tillis a “proven conservative” who supports anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage efforts. (Hear ad below.)

“In North Carolina, one conservative has the guts to stop Barack Obama and Kay Hagan’s liberal agenda – Thom Tillis,” it says.

The spot also repeats a falsehood that Tillis uses on the campaign trail – that Hagan cast the deciding vote on Obamacare.

To get it on the air, Grow NC Strong needed a boost from another super PAC supporting Tillis’ bid: American Crossroads, a group airing $1.6 million in TV ads promoting Tillis and bashing Hagan, the Democratic incumbent.

Crossroads gave Grow NC Strong $65,000 earlier this month ahead of the ad campaign, FEC reports show. The groups are using similar campaign messages, too. Outside political groups are allowed to coordinate with each other but not the campaign.

The Grow NC Strong radio ad says Tillis “is fighting Obamacare and has the guts to repeal and replace it.”

The first Crossroads ad, that debuted earlier this month, said Tillis had “the conservative guts to replace Obamacare with honest health-care reforms.”

Grow NC Strong started with $70,000 from three Tillis donors who he pushed for seats on the UNC Board of Governors. The donors recently contributed even more money to his campaign efforts.

Republican rival Greg Brannon has attacked Tillis for pay-to-play politics, citing Tillis’ role in helping the donors get elected to the board.

Hagan’s campaign said it suggested Tillis was “bought and paid for by Karl Rove.” From spokeswoman Sadie Weiner: “As if claims about Tillis’ ‘values’ weren’t laughable enough already, the Grow NC Strong radio ad has even less credibility now that we know it was funded by special interest kingpin Karl Rove.”

*** Listen to the radio ad at the bottom and get more intelligence on the Senate race below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory did not release a public schedule for Friday.

On Saturday, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will speak on N.C. State’s campus in Bostian Hall room 3712 at 1 p.m. It is open to the public.

#NCSEN ---

JOHN McCAIN DONATES TO THOM TILLIS, WHO KEEPS FUNDRAISING EDGE: Political action committees representing U.S. Sen. John McCain and the Koch Brothers helped Republican Thom Tillis to a 3-1 fundraising edge over his GOP rivals heading into the final month of their U.S. Senate campaign.

Donations from McCain’s “Country First” PAC and the Koch Industries PAC contributed to Tillis’ total fundraising of $3.1 million, according to a report posted Thursday by the Federal Election Commission.

Reports also show that Republican Greg Brannon, a Cary physician, tapped a national fundraising base in raising a total of nearly $1.1 million. And Mark Harris, a Charlotte pastor, has raised $803,000. He had twice as much cash on hand as Brannon at the end of March.

Heather Grant, a Wilkesboro nurse who took part in this week’s debates, raised a total of $16,540 with the help of a $12,000 loan. None of the other four GOP candidates reported raising any money. Read more here.

QUESTION: Does John McCain’s donation help or hurt Tillis? Brannon would probably call it the establishment trifecta, throwing in John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.

THOM TILLIS FLIER TOUTS McCRORY’S QUASI-ENDORSEMENT: Republican Thom Tillis is using Gov. Pat McCrory recent statement in support of his campaign on a new flier. McCrory made headlines by saying Tillis represented the best general election candidate, a non-endorsement endorsement.

As The News & Record reports, Tillis put it in his campaign flier next to lines describing his endorsement from National Right to Life. Read more here.

PRE-DEBATE POLL SHOWS TILLIS WITH BIGGER LEAD: A Survey USA poll for the Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank that supported most of the Republican legislative agenda, released Thursday shows Republican Thom Tillis with a solid margin over his GOP rivals.

Tillis took 39 percent in the poll of likely primary voters, just shy of the 40 percent threshold he will need to avoid a runoff election. Greg Brannon received 20 percent and Mark Harris 15 percent.

The remaining five candidates, including Heather Grant, finished in the low single digits. The undecideds fell to 19 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 5.1 percent.

The bigger question is whether the numbers hold. The mostly automated poll was conducted April 16-22, ending before the first U.S. Senate debate. Political observers expected two back-to-back debates to shift the race, particularly the undecided voters, so the numbers may not be relevant any more.

ARE PARTIES COORDINATING WITH SUPER PACS? It looks like a pattern is emerging from coded messages the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is spreading through Twitter – including in the North Carolina Senate race. And Republicans do it, too.

From the Washington Post: When campaigns flag “Important” messages online, it eases the burden for super PACs. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has pointed out similar “Important” online messages in recent months about Republicans running in North Carolina and Arkansas that were followed soon after by TV ads from the Democratic super Senate PAC Majority PAC and the Democratic nonprofit Patriot Majority USA attacking those Republicans on the same grounds. ...

Republicans do the same thing. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was widely mocked last month for posting a clip reel of himself on YouTube. Sure enough, footage from the reel found its way into a positive commercial a group supporting him launched a week later. Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock tried the same thing in Indiana in 2012. The National Republican Congressional Committee has a Web site with customized opposition research on Democrats sorted by district.

ANALYST JOHN DAVIS SAYS GOP PARTY SPLIT IS EVAPORATING: From his latest newsletter: “North Carolina Democrats really need social and economic Republican hardliners to divide and weaken the GOP in 2014. That’s because they, the Democrats, lack the wherewithal to win against a united Republican Party. Unfortunately, Republicans are not cooperating.

“So why aren’t Republicans likely to divide and conquer each other in 2014? Because the social and economic hardliners are out of favor. The government shutdown in October 2013 was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Republicans have now turned their attention away from ideological purity to winning legislative majorities, the U.S. House, and seizing the U.S. Senate.”

LITTLE BITS: Kay Hagan and Mitch McConnell share donors. Read here. ... The NRA has spent more than $45,000 to produce and mail fliers to voters promoting Thom Tillis. ... A gun group (that casts itself as the conservative alternative to the NRA) is attacking Tillis for his statements about the Second Amendment from the first debate. See it here. ... American Crossroads added $500,000 to its TV ad buy in support of Thom Tillis, extending it another week, now through April 28. ... Mark Harris announced an early vote tour Friday and Saturday hitting Gastonia, Concord, Salisbury, Lexington, Clyde and Waynesville.

#NCPOL ---

THE BIG STORY – LAWMAKERS PROPOSE ABOLISHING COMMON CORE STANDARDS AMID TEA PARTY PRESSURE: A state legislative commission proposed Thursday that North Carolina drop the Common Core and replace it with a new set of learning standards for public schools.

A draft bill replaces the Common Core State Standards in reading and math with new education benchmarks to be created by the State Board of Education, in consultation with a new Academic Standards Review Commission, made up of political appointees. The bill is expected to come up in the legislative session that begins in May.

Republican lawmakers said the bill is not merely a renaming of the standards but a removal of the Common Core, to be replaced with standards that “meet North Carolina’s needs.” If it passes the legislature, the Common Core could be history by July, though it likely would have to remain in place until new standards are finalized. ...

Several Democrats voted against dropping Common Core. Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Matthews Democrat, called the whole affair “political theater” that does a disservice to children and teachers.

McCRORY ADMINISTRATION: In North Carolina, the Common Core is backed by business leaders and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who has said consistent, rigorous education standards are key to a competitive business climate. ... “High standards and high expectations are the table stakes for that goal,” Eric Guckian, McCrory’s senior education adviser, said in a statement Thursday. “We welcome the opportunity to improve upon these standards, but any attempt to lower them is not an acceptable option.” Read more here.

CLICK: Don’t miss the video with the story above in which Sen. Tillman talks down to a reporter, calling her “darling.”

FLASHBACK: Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a leading critic, said “95 percent of Common Core is great.” Read more here.

INTERESTING TIMING: Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis announced his opposition to the Common Core standards in the Senate debate two days before the meeting at which the panel made the recommendation. How much of the upcoming legislative session will be colored by the Senate race?

PANEL RECOMMENDS STRIPPING SOLE PENSION INVESTMENT AUTHORITY FROM TREASURER: A bipartisan commission hand-picked by state Treasurer Janet Cowell is recommending that she and future treasurers share high-level investment decisions for the state’s $87 billion pension fund with a board of trustees.

However, the proposal, which was approved by voice vote Thursday, was far from unanimous. The recommendation will be accompanied by a minority report, signed by four of the 11 commission members, that advocates tweaking the current system rather than overhauling it.

The majority contend the current system, under which the treasurer is the sole fiduciary with final authority over pension fund investment decisions, is working but could nonetheless be better. North Carolina is one of just four states where the treasurer has sole authority on investment decisions. ...

The next step is up to Cowell ... Schorr Johnson, spokesman for the Treasurer’s office, said Cowell will review the majority and minority reports “and send a proposal to the General Assembly before the beginning of the session.” The legislature convenes May 14. Read more here.

CONGRESSMAN BUTTERFIELD’S MILITARY SERVICE QUESTIONED: A Democratic primary challenger to U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield of Wilson this week accused him of lying about his military record and refused to drop the matter Thursday after official records confirmed the congressman’s service.

Dan Whittacre of Henderson said he filed a request for Butterfield’s record with the National Personnel Records Center near St. Louis. The center wrote back in a letter Whittacre received last Saturday that the documents could not be found.

But on Wednesday, Matthew Moll, an expert archives technician at the center, said he found the records in the center’s vault on Tuesday in a subsequent search. Moll provided a copy of Butterfield’s documentation to The News & Observer that showed that the congressman served in the Army from 1968 to 1970 and was discharged in 1974 after serving in the Reserves.

But Whittacre, who has run against Butterfield for the 1st Congressional District seat previously, said he still wasn’t satisfied. Read more here.

A1 in Greensboro – LEGISLATIVE DEBATE IN GREENSBORO GETS TENSE: From The News & Record – The state House and Senate candidates tried desperately to distinguish themselves from their Democratic colleagues Thursday night at a candidate forum held at GTCC. And some of them took swipes at each other to do it.

Anna Fesmire, from the League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad, moderated the forum. The league and six other community groups hosted the candidates for N.C. Senate District 28 and House Districts 57, 58 and 60. ... All four races could be decided by the May 6 primary. Read more here.

MORE ON JONES-GRIFFIN RACE: From Huffington Post – Wall Street, War Hawks Fund Challenger To Only Anti-War, Anti-Wall Street Republican. Read more here.

CHARTER SCHOOLS WARNED TO COMPLY WITH OPEN RECORDS LAW: North Carolina’s top charter official warned schools Thursday that they could lose their charters, which authorize them to get public money, if they refuse to comply with public records requests for salaries.

The letter from charter Director Joel Medley came in response to the [Charlotte] Observer’s effort to get salaries from 21 Charlotte-area charter schools, which are independent public schools run by nonprofit boards. The letter reminds them that each board signed an agreement to follow the N.C. Public Records Law. Read more here.

CLAY AIKEN’S RIDE: A Republican political group tracking Democratic candidate Clay Aiken thinks the tint on his car is too dark. See it here.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: The three Democratic candidates for the 2nd Congressional District – including Clay Aiken – and the 13th Congressional District will appear at a forum 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Cary High School auditorium. It is open to the public and sponsored by three local Democratic organizations.

DEMOCRATS CALL ON McCRORY TO RETURN DUKE ENERGY MONEY: Following the report that Duke Energy wants its ratepayers to cover the bill for coal ash cleanup and removal, House Democratic leader Larry Hall called upon Gov. Pat McCrory to return the roughly $100,000 in campaign contributions he received from his former company.

“Duke Energy has given Governor McCrory nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions, which is $85,000 more than they have given to any North Carolina Governor in over a decade. Now Duke wants North Carolina families to pay to clean up the coal ash that they leaked and that is threatening drinking water statewide. Working families shouldn’t have to foot the bill for Duke’s mess. Instead of sitting silently, Governor McCrory should return Duke Energy’s money and require this energy company to clean up their coal ash contamination before it poisons drinking water across the state.

“Governor McCrory has a choice here: publicly stand up for working people or continue to side with the giant energy company where he used to work and that helped fund his political campaigns. I hope he will do the right thing,” said Rep. Larry Hall, in a statement.

ANOTHER QUESTION: Will Democrats give back the $10 million Duke Energy donated to the Democratic convention?

RELATED: Sen. Apodaca promises action on coal ash this short session. Read more here.


U.S. must stay involved in global aid and trade, Richard Burr says. Read more here.

State board agrees to give charter schools another chance. Read more here.

New monument marks Elizabeth Edwards’ grave. Read more here.

Bill to revise hospital rules dies. Read more here.