A lawyer for Republican Pat McCrory’s gubernatorial campaign is telling TV station managers to stop airing an ad that raises ethical questions about his relationship with a Charlotte-based lending and real estate company.
Paid for by the Democratic Governors Association, the ad started running Friday on broadcast stations in Raleigh and Greensboro and on cable channels statewide.
In the memo to stations, Foley & Lardner, a Washington law firm representing the McCrory campaign, said the ad is filled with “egregious and false statements” about the former Charlotte mayor.
“Unless you stop airing the ad immediately,” the firm wrote, “we will seek all legal remedies to force the ad off the air.”
As of Friday night, cable systems serving Asheville in the west and Nash County in the east had agreed to pull the ad, said McCrory campaign spokesman Brian Nick.
At issue in the ad is McCrory’s involvement with Tree.com. Since 2009 – during his last year as mayor – McCrory has been on its board of directors.
The ad doesn’t specify that he was on the board for only one year during his 14 years as mayor or that, in Charlotte, being mayor pays only a part-time salary.
According to Observer reports about McCrory joining the board, he was to be paid $50,000 a year, plus receive stock valued at up to $50,000. The ad says McCrory was paid “over $140,000 to sit on the board while he was mayor of Charlotte.”
The ad also seeks to tie McCrory’s position on the board to financial settlements or penalties by company subsidiaries, including LendingTree.com, over its lending or mortgage practices.
There were such settlements, including one in South Carolina. After that state’s 16 solicitors filed suit in 2008 against Lending Tree for failure to make disclosures required by South Carolina law, it agreed to pay more than $3 million.
What the ad doesn’t say is that the South Carolina solicitors filed suit at least a year before McCrory was added to the Tree.com board.
The most serious charge in the ad is that McCrory “used his position as mayor to lobby state government for millions in tax breaks for the company.”
In 2006 – three years before joining the Tree.com board – McCrory did write a letter to N.C. Commerce Secretary James Fain asking for state help in trying to retain LendingTree in Charlotte. At the time, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Observer, the city was competing with South Carolina. The Palmetto State had offered an estimated $53 million in state and local incentives – more than twice the North Carolina package.
The McCrory campaign said that, in writing the letter, he was acting as mayor on behalf of Charlotte. He was not a registered lobbyist and received no payment at the time from Lending Tree, the campaign said.
How did he later end up on the Tree.com board?
In 2009, a company spokesman said McCrory’s business experience and years as mayor provide “the public and private sector know-how” that Tree.com was looking for.
McCrory left Duke in 2008. And in 2010, the ex-mayor went to work as senior director of strategic initiatives for Moore & Van Allen, a law firm. Though the McCrory campaign said he is not a lobbyist at the firm, Moore & Van Allen does do lobbying, and Tree.com is among its clients.
Mark Giangreco, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, defended the ad – produced by a group called N.C. Citizens for Progress and costing the DGA $217,000.
“We welcome this discussion about Pat McCrory’s questionable ethics,” he said, “and hope the McCrory campaign will disclose the full extent of the relationship between this mortgage company that was accused of defrauding mortgage customers.”
The ad attacking McCrory follows an $850,000 TV ad buy by the Republican Governors Association, which linked Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, McCrory’s Democratic opponent, to unpopular Gov. Bev Perdue.
That ad, too, included some distortions, according to a fact check by The (Raleigh) News & Observer.
Ads that didn’t run
Also Friday, the Dalton campaign called on McCrory to disavow what it called planned “race-baiting ads” that would have tied President Barack Obama to the incendiary comments of his controversial ex-pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
The GOP strategist who offered the proposed ads, which were widely criticized after The New York Times exposed them, is also a consultant to McCrory’s campaign. Fred Davis heads California-based Strategic Perception, which also employs Nick, McCrory’s Charlotte-based consultant.
“Pat McCrory’s campaign is being run by extremists who want to smear the president in such an offensive and racist way that even Mitt Romney has distanced himself from it,” Dalton spokesman Schorr Johnson said in a statement.
McCrory could not be reached Friday. Spokesman Nick said McCrory’s ads will focus on “relevant issues people face” and said the candidate would have no further comment.