In late July this year, two North Carolina state legislators and a pharmaceutical industry executive set up a political non-profit to run ads focusing on the present financial crisis ahead of the November election. The nonprofit has spent more than $600,000 to produce the ads, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Real Time has been following various ads using our new “Follow the 527s” widget, available on the right side of the site.
The nonprofit, RightChange.com, Inc., was set up by a pair Republican lawmakers, state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, Jr. and state Rep. Jeff Barnhart. At least $2.75 million of the money used to fund the ads comes from Fred Eshelman, a local entrepreneur and CEO of Pharmaceutical Product Development, a company based in Wilmington, N.C. Ernest Mario, who serves on the board of Pharmaceutical Product Development, contributed $1 million.
On Sept. 30, RightChange submitted documents to the FEC disclosing that Eshelman made donations to the nonprofit to pay for two ads, titled Angry’ and Fought Reform,’ which were paid for with the donations from Eshelman and Mario.
In addition to RightChange.com, the two North Carolina lawmakers have another connection to Eshelman and Mario. Last year, Hartsell sponsored state funding for a bio-tech research center jointly funded by taxpayer dollars and private businesses. The amount of public funding for the project, the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, N.C., became a contentious issue; the House proposed spending only $1 million. Ultimately, Hartsell’s measure, which called for $26 million for the campus, was approved in August 2007.
In April 2008, Eshelman’s company put out this press release saying that Pharmaceutical Product Development was opening an office at the Kannapolis facility which will bring jobs to the area by attracting researchers and bio-tech experts.
Hartsell and Barnhart started another nonprofit, Alliance for Tomorrow, to promote the research campus. According to news reports in the Charlotte Observer, the nonprofit does not disclose the identity of its donors. The group achieved notoriety for advocating for the use of Tax Increment Financing,” — which earmarks property taxes for specific development projects — “and because its own source of funding is unknown, the paper reported.