Under the Dome

Outside group backing McCrory gears up for final ads

An independent political group that put substantial amounts of money into electing Republican candidates in 2010 and 2012 is gearing up in the final month before the Nov. 8 gubernatorial election in North Carolina.

The free-market advocacy group Real Jobs N.C. was formed by conservative financier, philanthropist and former state budget director Art Pope. It is planning to buy a series of “hard hitting ads” against Roy Cooper in the Democratic attorney general’s bid to unseat Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, according to a fundraising email sent on Thursday.

The email was sent by Michael Whatley, a veteran GOP politico and consultant for the energy industry who has been involved in promoting offshore energy exploration in North Carolina.

Also involved in the fundraising is David Powers, a member of the UNC Board of Governors and former lobbyist for a Reynolds American subsidiary, who is currently working for a Raleigh law firm. Like Whatley, Powers has extensive experience in national Republican politics.

Whatley said in the email that the three men hope to raise $400,000 through Real Jobs for anti-Cooper ads.

Real Jobs N.C. spent more than $1.6 million during the 2010 election cycle, according to a fact sheet accompanying the email. It says it successfully elected 16 of 19 legislative candidates that year while helping pay for mailers educating voters on McCrory’s pro-business stance.

Its goals for 2016 include keeping McCrory and the GOP-controlled legislature in office and countering what it says are anti-business efforts by environmentalists and unions.

The group was planning a fundraiser on Friday night near RDU International Airport featuring McCrory and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, but Pope told Dome the event may have been canceled due to weather concerns.

Pope said he didn’t think having McCrory at a fundraiser would violate campaign finance laws.

Real Jobs N.C. is a tax-exempt organization under the 527 tax code. It can run political commercials without limits on contributions, and must report donors to the Internal Revenue Service. It cannot coordinate with candidates’ campaigns.

“As North Carolina prepared for a hurricane, Governor McCrory was preparing to raise money for a group that he is legally barred from coordinating with for the specific purpose of running false attacks against Roy Cooper,” Ford Porter, Cooper’s campaign spokesman, said in an email.

Dome asked the state Board of Elections to take a look at the email and event invitation to see if it was within legal limits.

“The solicitation e-mail states that funds raised at the event will be spent to fund Real Jobs NC and a series of ads opposing Roy Cooper,” said Amy Strange, deputy director for campaign finance and operations. “The invitation does not state this.

“It is unclear whether Pat McCrory is coordinating with Real Jobs NC to benefit his campaign, but appearing at the event could generate questions about potential coordination. We can’t determine solely on the face of the documents that coordination has occurred or is occurring.

“An (independent expenditure) group does not have fundraising limitations, so the fundraiser would not be considered ‘over-the-limit’ unless the group is coordinating. If coordination occurs, then the expenditures become prohibited in-kind contributions.”

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO