Eyebrows were arched after Charlie Shelton, a Surry County businessman, secured Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s help this year in launching a Highway Patrol crackdown on truck drivers who park for naps beside interstate highway ramps.
But Shelton and his brother, Ed, co-founders of Shelton Vineyards, have been McCrory campaign supporters since the 1990s. And state Board of Elections records show that the Sheltons have a long history as top-tier money sources for North Carolina governors and other politicians, both Republicans and Democrats.
New research by Democracy N.C., a campaign watchdog group, shows that over the past 25 years, the combined donations from the Shelton brothers and their wives, children and children’s spouses to state campaigns and candidates totaled more than $1 million.
The Sheltons wrote checks to winners and losers, governors and legislators, challengers and incumbents in both political parties. Their contributions frequently were bundled – with several family members writing checks for the same amount, on the same day.
And the total of $1.036 million in donations to state campaigns from 1990 through 2014 does not reflect the Sheltons’ full impact on North Carolina politics.
These numbers do not include the Sheltons’ major state and national campaign roles in the 1980s. As Republican Gov. Jim Martin’s 1988 campaign finance chairman, Charlie Shelton was credited with gathering more than $400,000 from other Martin donors, including $34,000 from Shelton family members.
“He’s an 800-pound gorilla,” another Martin money man, Rusty Goode Jr., told The News & Observer in 1989. “There is no question about it.”
The Shelton brothers also contributed $200,000 to national Republican Party organizations in 1988, to help elect President George H.W. Bush and other national GOP candidates.
Every governor since Martin has benefited from Shelton campaign money. Former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt received $126,815 from Shelton family members during the 1990s, and Ed Shelton was Hunt’s fundraising chairman for the 1992 campaign.
Former Democratic Gov. Mike Easley received $61,000 from the Sheltons, most of it for his two gubernatorial campaigns in 2000 and 2004.
Hunt was governor when Charlie’s son Chip Shelton, then 27, was named to the state Board of Transportation in 1997. But the appointment was made by a powerful Republican – Rep. Harold Brubaker, then the state House speaker.
Chip’s father, Charlie Shelton, gave $50,000 in 1996 and 1997 to the Randolph County Republican Party, money used by Brubaker and his allies to help GOP legislative candidates. Brubaker’s personal campaign committee received $24,000 from the Sheltons between 1997 and 2011. Charlie Shelton had served on the transportation board in the 1980s, a Martin appointee.
The Sheltons helped the other side at the same time, giving $100,000 to state Democratic Party committees between 1994 and 2004.
Sen. Phil Berger, now the Senate leader, received a $4,000 campaign check in 2012. But the Sheltons have not given current legislative bosses anything like the money they handed out in earlier years to former Senate leader Marc Basnight ($49,000), former Sen. David Hoyle ($34,000), or former House speakers Jim Black ($32,200), Richard Morgan ($20,000) and Joe Hackney ($10,838).
Also excluded from the $1 million total is the Shelton family support for McCrory in the 1990s, when he was Charlotte’s mayor and Ed and Charlie were Charlotte developers. In 1997, when McCrory was elected to his second term as mayor, his campaign received $1,500 apiece from the Shelton brothers.
When McCrory first ran for governor in 2008, the only Shelton money he received was a $250 check from Charlie’s son-in-law, Todd Houser. (The winner that year, Democrat Bev Perdue, got a $4,000 check from Ed Shelton.)
But the Sheltons have returned to McCrory’s side since then.
McCrory’s successful 2012 election campaign received checks for $4,000 apiece from Charlie Shelton and five other members of his family on Dec. 31, 2011, and the same amounts from Ed Shelton and three members of his family on Feb. 8, 2012 – in all, $40,000.
Charlie Shelton met with McCrory in February or early March to press for state action against truck drivers who park illegally on the shoulders of Interstate 77 ramps to take naps. He complained a second time by email in March. State troopers got busy ticketing truckers across the state, especially in Surry County.
Although Shelton gave McCrory details about the problem, as he saw it, at several exits up and down I-77 in Surry County, the Highway Patrol focused its initial response on a single spot – Exit 93, used by visitors to Shelton Vineyards.
The Shelton brothers wrote McCrory on May 15 to “thank you for your continued support in our effort to get the truckers off the exit ramps,” and they followed it with another thank-you note on June 4.
Later in June, Ed and Charlie Shelton sent checks for $3,000 apiece to McCrory’s 2016 re-election campaign.
“I don’t need a favor from the governor,” Charlie Shelton, 80, said in a recent interview. “I gave him money because I like him and he’s doing a good job.”