Campaign intelligence: Carolina on donors’ minds

Screenshot from a Senate Majority PAC tv ad which says "Thom Tills let insurance companies deny coverage"
Senate Majority PAC has focused its efforts on the leader of the GOP pack, Thom Tillis; Image credit: Senate Majority PAC

Sunlight’s Real-Time FEC has been tracking all the disclosed political spending in North Carolina, where primary voters head to the polls Tuesday after a deluge of outside spending.

FEC disclosures reveal that outside groups — including heavy hitters like the Senate Majority PAC, American Crossroads and the US Chamber of Commerce — have already poured at least $7.8 million into the state’s competitive Senate race.

Much of this political advertising won’t find its way on to an FEC disclosure. Political nonprofits running “issue ads” that don’t explicitly advocate for a candidate’s election or defeat, are not required to report these expenditures unless they fall within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of the general election. Groups advertising before the April 6 deadline for reports to the FEC, according to an analysis of Political Ad Sleuth data, included national players such as the 60 Plus Association, American Petroleum Institute, Patriot Majority USA and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

recent analysis of ad data from Kantar Media/CMAG by the Wesleyan Media Project and the Center for Responsive Politics finds that nearly 15,000 senatorial ad spots have already run in the state — around  90 percent of which were sponsored by independent groups. A glance at Political Ad Sleuth‘s market report for top four stations in Raleigh, gives a sense of the feeding frenzy taking place in the state’s TV markets.

Republicans are hoping to unseat one-term Democrat Kay Hagan this fall but first must sort our their own crowded field.

On Tuesday, most of the buzz will be around the Republican primary, where Thom Tillis — the speaker of the state House — aims to avoid a runoff with Greg Brannon, a physician with Tea Party credentials and an endorsement from libertarian hero and potential presidential candidate Rand Paul, Kentucky’s junior Republican senator. Tillis’ campaign has outraised Brannon’s committee by more than $2 million thanks in part to fundraising help from senior GOP senators such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky’s senior Republican senator), Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn..

Outside conservative dollars also tilted toward Tillis: The Karl Rove-affiliated American Crossroads spent over $1.6 million thus far on ads (see below) touting Tillis as the “proven conservative” antidote to incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, D, and President Obama. Brannon has been backed by the Tea Party Patriots and FreedomWorks, which have not been able to contend with the financial firepower of ‘establishment’ conservative groups active in the race.

On the Democratic side, outside groups favoring Hagan have the advantage of a clear primary field and have turned their attention to the presumptive Republican nominee, Tills. The chart below (populated from Real-Time’s independent expenditure data) shows the top five outside spenders in the race. Both Senate Majority PAC and Patriot Majority USA (a dark money group) are Democratic leaning.

As reported by the Washington Post, Hagan has also teed off on Tillis, taking a page out of Claire McCaskill’s book and lambasting Tillis for supporting the Affordable Care Act in mailers targeted at conservative voters. Should Tillis fail to clear 40 percent of the primary vote he will be forced into a runoff election with the runner-up.


In this zanily gerrymandered and heavily Republican central North Carolina district, incumbent RepublicanRep. Renee Ellmers, seems likely to cruise to victory over conservative challenger Frank Roche, despite the support he’s gotten from flamethrower Ann Coulter. But the Democratic primary is also attracting national attention despite the underdog status of the eventual victory. Among the candidates: Clay Aiken, of American Idol fame. He has contributed just under $29,000 to his own congressional campaign and has has also picked up substantial fundraising aid from producers in the entertainment industry.

An invitation picked up by Political Party Time shows the pop star was fêted by Walt Disney Studios chair Alan Horn and Kathy Griffin among others in Los Angeles.


And what Aiken’s opponent, Keith Crisco, lacks in star power, he has made up for with greenbacks. The former North Carolina secretary of commerce has already spent nearly $720,000 of his own funds on the campaign and has taken the offensive against Aiken, blasting the singer for missing every single meeting of a presidential commission devoted to people with intellectual abilities in a TV ad.


Dubbed the “Hawk vs. Dove GOP” primary by the National Journal, this race pits 10-term congressman Walter Jones, one of the most prominent Republican voices against U.S. military intervention in Iraq, against Taylor Griffin, a Republican aide-turned-lobbyist who recently returned to the district to unseat the 20-year congressman.

Like some other GOP incumbents, Jones has been the target of hostile campaign expenditures by outside groups that don’t think he’s toeing a sufficiently conservative line. Ending Spending Action Fund ($753,894) and the Emergency Committee for Israel ($316,938) have blanketed voters with online advertising, voter contacts and direct mail.

But unlike some other beleaguered GOP incumbents — such as Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Thad Cochran of Mississippi and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio — Jones is not receiving much reinforcement from GOP establishment types, his tenure and senior role on the Armed Services Committee notwithstanding.

Incumbency still has its privileges, however, Jones has pulled in around $157,000 in hard money from the Washington area. As of Tuesday his campaign had raised over $480,000 to Griffin’s $280,000.