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Campaign finance reports show surprises; big bucks flow into anti-land transfer tax initiative

Follow the money to May 6 

Across the Triangle, enthusiastic voters are flocking to early voting sites in record numbers: about 12,000 Wake residents, 8,781 Durham residents, 7,701 Orange residents and 2,798 Chatham residents had cast ballots as of April 29.

Someday, those voters and others like them will have to wonder a little less about the support behind candidates and referendum campaigns, now that publicly financed, "voter-owned" election models are slowly taking hold—from Chapel Hill's fledgling municipal program to statewide seats for judges and the Council of State.

But until then, it's still true that following the money reveals much in politics. In Orange County this primary season, the sprawl lobby is in high gear working against the proposed land-transfer tax. In the U.S. Senate Democratic primary, Kay Hagan is far out-raising Jim Neal in the race to face Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole—and her deep war chest—this fall.

Meanwhile, candidates' donations and expenditures shed light on their campaigns, their issues and their support bases in local legislative and county races.

The last campaign finance reports that will be filed before the May 6 primary are in; some highlights appear below. To read the original reports, see the bottom of this story.

Orange: Sprawl lobby just says no to LTT

Big money from across the state—and as far away as Washington—is piling on to beat the land transfer tax in Orange County. Real estate agents and homebuilders have donated nearly a quarter of a million dollars to a campaign against the May 6 ballot referendum in Orange County. The referendum committee, Citizens for a Better Orange County, has raised $234,239 in contributions, loans and in-kind donations, according to campaign finance reports filed with the elections board April 28.

Back in March, spokesman and Chapel Hill real estate agent Mark Zimmerman characterized his group's fundraising this way: "We hope to raise funds from a fairly broad, grassroots coalition of individuals and organizations who oppose the imposition of another sales tax on property."

However, the report shows the group's funding has come exclusively from the real estate and homebuilding industry organizations, including more than half of the total contributions from one donor: the N.C. Association of Realtors.

Unlike political action committees, which can accept no more than $4,000 from any one contributor, referendum committees have no contribution limits.

The committee has spent $205,115 on direct mailings, polls and ads. With 95,805 registered voters in Orange County, that amounts to $2.14 spent per voter as of April 18, more than two weeks before the election.

Orange County Commissioners have said they would use revenue from a .04 percent tax on real estate transactions to pay for schools and parks. The county is not allowed to advocate for the tax, but has undertaken an information campaign including a Web site, yourchoice-oc.com, to educate voters.

The N.C. Association of Realtors has effectively been running the campaign against the Orange County referendum from its Greensboro office, the report shows. The association has spent $23,854 on in-kind donations of polling, signs, postage, consulting and "staff costs"; made $30,000 in general contributions; and loaned the committee $70,000.

Other contributions have come from the N.C. Homebuilders Association ($44,500), Triangle MLS, a real estate listing service ($30,000), Greater Chapel Hill Association of Realtors ($5,000), the Triangle Community Coalition ($5,000), and the Durham Regional Association of Realtors ($1,000). The National Association of Homebuilders in Washington, D.C., donated $24,885 in television ad time.

National and state-level political consulting firms are working on the committee's behalf. As of April 19, the committee had paid Public Solutions $88,727 on direct mail and Web site design. Public Solutions is a Raleigh-based public affairs and political strategy firm headed by Chris Sinclair, a former lobbyist for the manufactured housing industry who also heads the Triangle Community Coalition. The committee also paid Campaign Connections, another Raleigh political consulting firm, $53,660 for newspaper and radio ads, consulting and other expenses. The Victory Group in Baltimore was hired for $11,000 for a TV and radio ad, and Cornerstone Strategy and Communications in West Palm Beach was paid $2,929 for a phone data bank.

Organized opposition and big bucks from these same groups helped defeat referenda for the tax in 16 other jurisdictions across the state last November. And while the Orange County referendum is a long shot, it has one thing going for it: a committee organized in favor.

Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton helped organize Orange Citizens for Schools and Parks, which is headed by former Chapel Hill Councilman Joe Capowski. The group has raised $1,764 and spent $1,329 as of April 19.

Details of that committee's report were not available Tuesday morning, but Chilton said most contributions have come from school board and PTA members and parents of public school students.

"The little money we've been able to raise comes from people who care passionately about our community," he said. It has produced yard signs, flyers and a Web site (www.4schools4parks.com).

"It's clear we're being outspent; I'm going to guess probably about 50 or 100 to one," Chilton said.

More like 200 to one. —Fiona Morgan

U.S. Senate: PACs for Hagan, not for Neal

Missouri loves Kay Hagan even though she's running for a U.S. Senate seat 700 miles away. The political action committee Missourians for Accountability and Change is headed by Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. It chipped in $2,500 to Hagan's campaign, adding to the $562,000 she has raised through the end of last year for her first run at the U.S. Senate. She has tacked on an additional $47,000 in PAC money during the first quarter of 2008, according to Federal Election Commission reports and data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Other notable PAC contributions include $5,000 from the Teamsters; $2,000 from Piedmont Natural Gas; and $2,500 from the Lorillard Tobacco Company.

Over the same time period, Jim Neal raised $214,000 but has taken no PAC money, relying on contributions from individuals, including Tim Toben of Greenbridge Developments in Chapel Hill (who is also a major Barack Obama supporter) and $2,300 from Jane Preyer, the director of Environmental Defense in Raleigh.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole, whose nest egg includes more than $4 million she has raised this election cycle. —Lisa Sorg

N.C. Senate 23: Carey outraising Kinnaird

In Orange County, challenger Moses Carey has significantly outraised incumbent Ellie Kinnaird in the N.C. Senate District 23 race, and kicked in an additional $10,000 of his own money, according to State Board of Election campaign finance reports filed earlier this week.

For the election cycle, Carey reported $54,000 compared to Kinnaird's $32,000.

In the first quarter of the year, Carey, an Orange County Commissioner, received more than $22,000 in contributions from individuals and political action committees; meanwhile, Kinnaird received $26,000 from those sources.

High rollers supporting Carey's campaign include Duke Energy's PAC, which kicked in $2,000, and AT&T North Carolina, which chipped in another $1,000. He also received contributions from three developers connected with the proposed Buckhorn Village project: George Horton ($250), Roger Perry ($1000) and Rosemary Waldorf ($250). Kinnaird received a $4,000 cash infusion from Lillian's List of N.C., a political committee that works to elect pro-choice candidates, and another $4,000 from the State Employees Association of N.C. PAC.

Fellow state Sen. Doug Berger contributed $500; other donors included Chapel Hill Town council members Bill Strom ($100) and Laurin Easthom ($200). —Lisa Sorg

Chatham: Incumbents vs. coalition of challengers

In the Democratic primary battle for two Chatham County Commissioners' seats, incumbents Patrick Barnes and Mike Cross face challengers backed by the Chatham Coalition, a grassroots citizens' PAC that supported successful challengers in the last two election cycles—including Barnes and Cross in 2004. In both races, the opponents are running almost even in fundraising.

As of the April 28 reporting deadline, Barnes had raised $4,017, primarily from individual donations of $250 or less. His opponent in District 1, Sally Kost, had raised $4,147.

In District 2, Cross raised $6,014 in individual donations and one loan from himself for $600. His opponent, Jeffrey Starkweather, had raised $5,236 in donations and also reported $1,400 cash on hand at the beginning of the election cycle, for a total of $6,636.

Both Kost and Starkweather turned over a significant percentage of their donations to the Chatham Coalition PAC for joint signs, mailings and stickers. The PAC reported $12,849 in total donations, including $6,746 from their candidates' campaign chests: $3,361 from Kost and $3,385 from Starkweather. The other $6,103 in income came from individual contributions to the PAC, whose donors included current District 4 Commissioner Tom Vanderbeck ($100) and his wife, Laura Wimbish Vanderbeck ($250), Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy ($75), and Lesley Landis, a member of the Coalition's steering committee and the wife of Pittsboro Mayor Randy Voller, who gave $500.

In the May 2006 primary, when the Coalition backed three successful candidates in a sweep of the open seats, the PAC raised $33,000.

In the District 2 race, an incomplete report for a third candidate, Armentha Lee Davis, shows she has raised $5,611 from individuals, including her largest donor, New Hill resident Paul McCoy, who gave $1,200 this cycle. Davis' report lacks full addresses and occupation/employer for most donors; Elections Director Dawn Stumpf said she would ask Davis' treasurer, former Pittsboro Town Board member Max Cotten, to correct the report.

Chatham's growth continues to be a factor in two ways: as an issue in the campaign, as candidates debate the best way to steer the county's future development, and in the polls, as 6,254 new voters have registered since the last county commissioner primary in May 2006—a nearly 20 percent increase in registrations. —Jennifer Strom

Durham commissioners and school board

With almost $19,000 in contributions, Durham County Commissioners challenger Don Moffitt raised more money than any other candidate for county commission this election cycle, with broad-based support from more than 150 donors, including several public officials. City Councilman Mike Woodard gave $100 to Moffitt's campaign, County Commissioner Lewis Cheek gave $100, and school board member Steve Schewel donated $200. (Schewel is the president of Carolina Independent Publications, which owns the Indy.) Former mayor Wib Gulley and former city Councilwoman Sandy Ogburn also contributed.

Incumbent Commissioner Ellen Reckhow raised $15,035, with strong support from the local real estate community and Duke University employees.

Challengers Josh Parker and Fred Foster were the only county commissioner candidates to accept money from political action committees. The Triangle Apartment Association contributed $500 to Parker's campaign. City Councilwoman Diane Catotti's campaign gave $25 to Foster.

In the race for the Durham Public Schools at-large board seat, Leigh Bordley has raised almost $12,000 with contributions from school board member Steve Schewel, and the election committees of school board member Kirsten Kainz and Catotti.

School board candidate Nancy Cox has raised $1,000. —Mosi Secret


Read the reports

Federal

Reports for federal candidates are kept by the Federal Elections Commission (www.fec.gov/disclosure.shtml). However, there are many independent sites that also offer FEC data; most user-friendly is opensecrets.org.

State and judges

Reports for candidates for all statewide offices (governor, Council of State, etc.) and all judges and district attorneys are kept at the N.C. Board of Elections and available online at www.sboe.state.nc.us/content.aspx?id=22.

Local

Wake County: Not posted online. Available for public viewing at the county elections office, 337 S. Salisbury St. in downtown Raleigh.

Chatham County: Not posted online. Available for public viewing at the county elections office, 984 Thompson St., Pittsboro.

Individual reports (all PDF files):

Durham County: Online at www.durhamcountync.gov/departments/elec/Campaign_Finance_Reporting_Archive/2008/2008%20Campaign%20Finance%20Reports.html

Orange County: Not posted online. Available for public viewing at the county elections office, 110 E. King St., Hillsborough.

Individual report (PDF file):

  • Campaign finance reports show surprises; big bucks flow into anti-land transfer tax initiative

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