A mysterious Democratic group launched a television campaign against Republican gubernatorial nominee Pat McCrory on Thursday, only a week after a similar GOP group drew sharp criticism for planning to help him.
The Alliance for North Carolina released no details about who its backers are. A spokesman from the Democratic Governors Association said it had given $500,000 to the alliance but did not say who its donors are.
The ad campaign shows that out-of-state groups are ramping up spending in North Carolina ahead of what could be the most contested fall campaign season in decades. At least three other organizations have laid out plans that could influence races for governor, Congress and president.
“North Carolina has got so many open seats, from the presidency down to the courthouse, that are competitive,” said Gary Bartlett, the chief N.C. election official. “Anytime you have that many competitive races, you're going to see this sort of thing.”
The Alliance for North Carolina ads began airing statewide criticizing McCrory on the minimum wage, pay raises for the Charlotte City Council and tuition at community colleges. Only two weeks ago, the Washington, D.C., group went by the name Pioneer Majority and had a history of focusing on Oklahoma.
McCrory, Charlotte's mayor, denounced most of the charges as false. Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, the Democratic nominee, denied involvement.
The Alliance for North Carolina has existed under different names since May 2006, according to IRS records. It is a so-called “527 group” with the stated goal of advocating issues, but its first ad in North Carolina focuses exclusively on McCrory.
“Will Pat McCrory's economic policies move North Carolina forward?” the ad begins.
It goes on to say that McCrory opposes a raise in the minimum wage – which he sometimes has, though he also has said he would support a raise under certain conditions. It also criticizes him for opposing the elimination of tuition at community colleges; McCrory has said that “nothing is free.”
And in the most contentious claim, the ad says McCrory “supports pay raises for politicians, including himself.”
The Charlotte City Council approved pay raises for itself and the mayor in June. A search Thursday turned up no statements by McCrory in support of the raises. McCrory's campaign said he opposed them. He did not vote on the proposal – the mayor votes only in rare cases – and while he could have vetoed it, doing so would have required vetoing the entire city budget.
According to the McCrory campaign, the ad is running in all major N.C. media markets except Charlotte at a cost of $300,000. Last week, an N.C. PAC established by the Republican Governors Association was criticized for raising nearly $390,000 to help elect McCrory.
State law requires the Alliance for North Carolina to file papers today disclosing donations of more than $1,000. Scott Falmlen, a longtime Democratic consultant and a spokesman for the group, said it would do so.
Two addresses for the group belong to a Mail Boxes Etc. chain and to a law office.
“It's kind of shrouded in secrecy in this point,” said McCrory spokeswoman Amy Auth.
Bartlett said the State Board of Elections is considering new rules for how outside groups disclose where they get their money. A complaint filed with the board Wednesday questioned whether one Republican group is “giving in the name of another,” in violation of state law, because the donors don't always know where their money will be spent.
Auth also charged that Perdue and her supporters “are intentionally trying to mislead North Carolina's voters.” She called on Perdue to condemn the ad. Perdue didn't.
Asked in a brief interview Thursday if she knew about the ad ahead of time, Perdue said, “No, no, no.” A spokesman later released a statement calling the infusion of outside money “unfortunate” and calling on campaigns to “refrain from personal attacks and to focus on factual issue differences.”