Under the Dome

Nominee for UNC board stresses his campaign fundraising in email to lawmakers

Margaret Spellings, then-UNC president-elect (left), speaks with UNC Board of Governors member Henry Hinton during a break in the board’s meeting at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro on Feb. 12, 2016.
Margaret Spellings, then-UNC president-elect (left), speaks with UNC Board of Governors member Henry Hinton during a break in the board’s meeting at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro on Feb. 12, 2016. cliddy@newsobserver.com

One of the nominees hoping the state House would award him another term on the UNC Board of Governors emphasized his fundraising efforts on behalf of conservative legislative campaigns in an email to top lawmakers this week.

Henry Hinton, a broadcast executive from Greenville, was one of 14 nominees running for six available state House appointments to the board, which oversees the 17-campus UNC system. He was not selected Wednesday for another term on the board.

In an eight-paragraph email to House leaders on Monday – including Rules Chairman David Lewis of Harnett County, Budget Chairman Nelson Dollar of Wake County and Majority Leader John Bell of Wayne County, all Republicans – Hinton spends the majority of his time addressing comments he had made about the hiring of a new chancellor at East Carolina University. But he spent a few sentences playing up his political activity.

“I would challenge you to find anyone who has worked harder than myself to get conservatives elected and keep them there,” Hinton wrote in the email obtained by the N.C. Insider. “In fact I have been leading an effort for a new PAC to raise $250,000 to help with the 2018 elections. We have had two organizational meetings and are planning a kickoff on April 26th with an invitation list of over 200 people.”

That paragraph provoked some raised eyebrows among Republicans, although several of the listed recipients said they had not read it yet, including Bell.

“Normally, campaign issues are discussed outside of the General Assembly,” Bell said late Tuesday, emphasizing that he had not had time to read Hinton’s note due to work and family commitments. But he emphasized that lawmakers typically tried to separate campaign and legislative matters.

Via email Tuesday, Hinton said it is no secret that he is involved in fundraising and politics.

“I sent that email to some of the leaders in the house and pointed out that I intended to continue to do that so they will know that I still share their values,” Hinton wrote to The Insider. “I have been involved with candidates at the local state and federal level for many years supporting the conservative cause.”

Seats on the Board of Governors have long been considered plum postings and often go to big campaign donors. That can sometimes draw unfavorable attention to the process.

In 2013, questions about seats going to large political fundraisers roiled the state House under then-Speaker Thom Tillis, who is now a U.S. senator. In one case, when fellow Republicans asked why Tillis was supporting Democrat R. Doyle Parrish for the board, Tillis replied, “I would estimate he is directly responsible for more than $100,000.00 in financial support through personal contributions to my campaign committee and other candidates and through the Hospitality Alliance.”

Dollar said he had not seen the email in question. Lewis declined to comment.

“He’s really asserting a pay-to-play privilege here,” said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, a good-government group with a long history of tracking how campaign spending connects with official actions. “Your credential to serve on the Board of Governors shouldn’t be about your ability to raise money for a party or candidates.”

Hinton said he was making a case about shared philosophy more than any particular fundraising effort.

“Well the board will be making the decisions on who receives donations from the PAC. Not myself alone,” Hinton wrote. “It will be money that is given to federal candidates as well. Not necessarily house candidates. My point is that I am always actively supporting free enterprise and conservative government and principles.”

Rep. Darren Jackson, a Wake County Democrat and the minority leader in the House, said the email could raise questions.

“I think there has been a feeling in the past that those seats were tied to fundraising. I don’t think that’s what it should be about,” Jackson said.

Mark Binker: 919-807-1879, @binker