Under the Dome

Democrats are publicly shaming a consultant for helping a Republican via ‘dark money’

Rep. Nelson Dollar speaks at the NC General Assembly on Dec. 13, 2016. The NC Democratic Party on Feb. 14, 2018, condemned political consultant Brad Crone for working with Dollar.
Rep. Nelson Dollar speaks at the NC General Assembly on Dec. 13, 2016. The NC Democratic Party on Feb. 14, 2018, condemned political consultant Brad Crone for working with Dollar. cseward@newsobserver.com

The state Democratic Party is attacking a longtime political consultant for working with a powerful Republican it hopes to unseat this fall.

State Democrats distributed a statement Wednesday condemning Brad Crone, president of Campaign Connections in Raleigh, for working with a campaign that aims to help Republican state Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary. The statement cites a document describing a nonprofit called NC STRONG, and listing Crone as a general consultant and main contact person for the group.

Contributions to the group won’t be disclosed to the public, according to the document.

The move is unusual even in the political world. It’s especially unusual considering that Crone has previously worked with prominent North Carolina Democrats such as former agriculture commissioner Jim Graham, state Senate minority leader Dan Blue, state Rep. Rosa Gill and recent Raleigh mayoral candidate Charles Francis.

Brad Crone

Crone has previously worked with Republicans, too. But his ties to Dollar come amid an intense Democratic push to gain power in the North Carolina General Assembly.

Republicans now have so many seats in the state House and state Senate that they can override Cooper’s vetoes. But Democrats hope to break the supermajority in the legislature in this fall’s midterm elections, and they see Dollar as vulnerable.

“Mr. Crone’s efforts to create a dark money group on behalf of a key member of Republican leadership, in one of the state’s most competitive districts, is disturbing and should cause anyone still working with him to question Mr. Crone’s real motivations,” NC Democratic Party Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds said in the statement.

“Democrats are united in breaking the supermajority and sticking up for what we believe in,” she continued.Anyone actively working to undermine those two goals is clearly not looking out for our values, and I hope that candidates and campaigns that choose to work with Mr. Crone will think long and hard about what their association with someone involved in dark money efforts to benefit Republicans signals to Democratic primary voters this May.”

Crone, for his part, noted that he’s politically unaffiliated and referred to the Democratic Party statement as an example of hyper-partisan politics at its worst. He declined to comment on his work.

“They can send out whatever they want,” Crone said. “I’ve been in this business 26 years; people know me, know my reputation, know my character and I’ll let it stand at that.”

Jim Blaine, chief of staff for state Senate leader Phil Berger, speculated on Twitter that the NCDP statement was retribution for Crone’s comments during a recent appearance on the Spectrum News show, Capital Tonight.

Crone, who show host Tim Boyum introduced as a Democratic consultant, was paired up to talk about the pipeline deal with Chad Adams, a conservative radio show host. Rather than debate, Crone and Adams agreed that deal looked bad for Cooper.

Crone said of the pipeline fund: “If it looks like a shakedown and it smells like a shakedown, it’s more than likely a shakedown.” He added that the fund makes “Mr. Clean governor look really bad because it looks like there was a quid pro quo,” and that it’s “a big noose around the Governor’s neck.”

Boyum reacted to the noose comment, joking, “Boy, I can hear the governor’s office calling your phone right now [to say] ‘Hey, what are your Democratic credentials?’”

Former Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, posted the segment featuring Crone on his Facebook page.

As for the “dark money,” groups organized as “social welfare” tax-exempt nonprofits must spend less than half of their money on politics. Social welfare groups have typically been used for civic purposes but in recent years have become part of the chain of what open-government watchdogs call “dark money.” They do not have to publicly disclose their donors.

Democrats and Republicans both benefit from the system. One group raised money last year by selling admission to join Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper at events focused on topical issues. McCrory’s supporters formed another group soon after he was elected in 2012.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht