The first round of campaign finance reports came in last week for the race to replace Thom Tillis in NC House District 98, and as usual when you follow the money some interesting things pop up.
On Democratic Party side of the race, Davidson resident Natasha Marcus reports a very respectable sum of $47,379.03 in total receipts with $39,435.95 on hand. This comes from a donor base of over 140 including some Davidson politicos - Commissioner Rodney Graham, Former Commissioner Margo Williams, and Former Davidson Mayor Randall Kincaid. Notably, the total receipts includes only a $500 loan from the candidate, so if Ms. Marcus decides to put in any sizable amount of her own money she will certainly have enough to remain competitive financially.
Most of Marcus's donations came from the local area or from what appear to be family members, but one donation stood out - a $2528 contribution from the campaign committee of former State Senator Eleanor Kinnaird (D-Chatham, Orange). A little research reveals that Sen Kinnaird has long been supported by Lillian's List - North Carolina's leading lobbying group opposing restrictions on abortion. The group is modeled off of Emily's List, the national group that is Kay Hagan's largest supporter. Here's how the organization describes itself on its website.
"Lillian’s List of NC is a statewide community of individuals who work to recruit, train, promote and support pro-choice progressive women running for public office in North Carolina. We are modeled after EMILY’s List and provide financial, strategic, and political support to women serving in the state legislature and the Council of State. We also strategically recruit new candidates committed to reproductive freedom and equality for women."
The site also states that during the last election cycle Lillian's List and its supporters funneled over $250,000 to its favored list of candidates. When Senator Kinnaird liquidated her campaign fund after resigning her office last year, the last two donations went to two other candidate campaign committees, those for Natasha Marcus in NC98 and Kim Hanchette NC49 - the two candidates currently highlighted on Lillian's List.
It remains to be seen if abortion will be a major issue in the NC98 race, but this donation combined with others from Lillian's List fundraisers and member donors likely will make this interest group the largest combined donor group to the Marcus campaign.
On the Republican side, the big story is the huge campaign war chest Cornelius Commissioner John Bradford has amassed - $154,000. Yes, you read that right! What makes this interesting is that it comes almost entirely in the form of a personal loan from Bradford to his campaign. Certainly, the campaign will be bringing in quite a few donations, but at this point it's almost all Bradford's own money.
Self-funding of campaigns is not uncommon. For example, when Thom Tillis ran for this same seat in 2006, he loaned his campaign a total of just over $100,000 out of total fundraising of around $150,000. What makes the Bradford loan different is that he's loaning the money all at one time. Tillis loaned the money in eight different installments over the course of the campaign.
And that's where things get even more interesting. It appears Bradford may have been originally planning on taking that same approach of loaning money in chunks, but changed his mind. According to the filing documents, Bradford loaned his campaign $10,000 on Christmas Eve. However, the documents also show that the loan was repaid the same day. Then, on December 26th, Bradford made the much larger $150,000 loan. The information about the original $10,000 loan did not show up in the campaign finance reports until the report filed this past Monday, February 4th. In the original paperwork filed by the campaign back in December, it looked like a single loan had been made when in fact there had been two.
So, why the change of mind? Two possible explanations come to mind.
1. $10,000 doesn't scare anybody in politics. On the other hand, $150,000 sends a message. For example, Bradford's only announced Republican opponent, former Cornelius Mayor Lynette Rinker, has only $3000 on hand according to her campaign finance reports for the same period. Who knows? Bradford's war chest, might scare her off from even filing if it's clear she can't compete financially.
2. Bradford likely has strong expectations of future fundraising, and maybe he expects to be able to pay himself back quickly during the campaign. He has already lined up an impressive list of endorsements from elected officials, and he appears to be running an extensive campaign. It's possible that he has been well assured of getting back some of his money sooner rather than later. Again by comparison, it took Thom Tillis's campaign until 2013 to pay back just $50,000 of the loans he made his campaign.
Big-money is a big part of big-time politics. Where that money comes from and how much is spent frequently drives campaign issues and the outcomes. In this very Republican leaning district according to the latest Civitas Partisan Index, how this plays out will be something to watch.