Politics & Government

North Carolina GOP has financial edge heading into elections

As filing opens Monday for the 2014 elections, North Carolina Republicans appear on their way to another fundraising edge, though one Democrat predicts a more level playing field than 2012.

Building on GOP control of state government, the state Republican Party raised $1.2 million in 2013. That was a third more than the Democratic Party.

Many Republican legislators have outperformed Democrats. Every Republican lawmaker from Mecklenburg County, for example, raised more than any Democrat in the delegation.

And Senate President Phil Berger of Rockingham County raised nearly $800,000 – more than 10 times as much as the Democratic leader.

“Money generally follows power,” said Bob Hall, who tracks campaign spending for Democracy North Carolina. “Just as when the Democrats were in charge, the Republicans now have the upper hand in attracting donations.”

Elections formally kick off Monday at noon with the start of candidate filing in North Carolina. It ends Feb. 28.

This year voters will elect members of Congress, state legislators, judges and local officials, including county commissioners.

Republicans will try to keep or even build on their veto-proof majorities in the state House and Senate. Democrats hope to at least chip away in the relative handful of swing districts.

Legislators and their campaigns helped fill the coffers of both parties. But the state GOP also got a boost from big individual donors.

Raleigh businessman Robert Luddy gave the party $80,000, by far the biggest gift to either party. But the GOP also was helped by other donors, such as businessman and deputy state budget director Art Pope. He gave the party $21,000. No nonincumbent gave the Democratic Party even half that much.

In 2012, the GOP Senate caucus, the organization of Republican senators, raised nearly $4.5 million compared to $1 million raised by its Democratic counterpart, according to Democracy North Carolina.

The House Republican caucus raised $3.7 million, compared to Democrats’ $1.8 million.

Help from Tillis and Samuelson

Also boosting House caucus were the efforts of two Mecklenburg Republicans: House Speaker Thom Tillis and Rep. Ruth Samuelson.

Both unopposed in their own 2012 elections, they raised a total of $2.3 million for the caucus and for candidates in tight races.

This year the situation has changed for both Republicans. Tillis is one of several GOP candidates hoping to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan. Samuelson is not running for re-election.

“With the loss of Ruth and Thom Tillis, (the caucus is) $2.3 million in the hole,” said Matt Bales, research director of the Free Enterprise Foundation and former political director of the House GOP caucus.

But Samuelson is still actively raising money, and getting more of her colleagues to help.

She helped create the “Quarter Masters Club,” a group of 11 House Republicans who have pledged to raise at least $250,000 to help GOP candidates.

“I was hoping we’d have six or eight so I was really pleased we had as many as we did,” Samuelson said. “It’s a great way for everybody to hold together.”

One member of the club is Republican Tim Moore of Kings Mountain.

“Those of us who are in more secure districts have to redouble our efforts to help those who need it,” Moore said.

‘Fired up and willing’

Democrats, meanwhile, are encouraged by other numbers.

Despite the overall GOP fundraising advantage, Democratic legislative caucuses ended the year with a comparable balance of cash on hand. The House caucus had $274,600 compared to the Republican caucus’ $302,500.

And the Senate caucus actually had more: $71,300 compared to less than $30,000.

Democratic House Caucus Director Casey Wilkinson said members have a program similar to Republicans. It’s called the “Caucus Plus Program,” with members pledging to raise different amounts up to $500,000.

He said the House caucus has doubled its fundraising over the same point two years ago.

“Individual donors in North Carolina are fired up and willing to help change the direction of the state,” said Wilkinson. “(In 2012) we got outspent. We’re going to have a much more even playing field in 2014.”