Thursday, September 3, 2015

Why the Pittenger FBI investigation matters...

It is not yet clear how the current investigation into NC-9 Congressman Robert Pittenger’s family company got started.  Was it a partisan effort, a disgruntled investor, a whistleblower of some sort?  To a certain degree the answer to that does not really matter.

What has mattered to voters of North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District is that the money behind the Congressman has had a very direct impact on how the last two election cycles have gone.

When Pittenger ran for Congress in 2012, he was one of the wealthiest potential members on the ballot in the country.  According to data from, Pittenger’s net worth was pegged at $27.68 million prior to winning election in 2012.   That would have put him solidly in the top 20 of all members of Congress, both the House and Senate.

After his election, when ethics rules around “fiduciary” professions kicked-in and Pittenger sold his interest in the family land business to his wife, Pittenger's wealth dropped dramatically to “only” $6.86 million.  Over night, he’s “only”the 55th wealthiest member of Congress according to the 2013 numbers at Roll Call.

Here's the thing.  It doesn't matter whether one buys into the idea that Pittenger followed the strict letter of the law according to the ethics rules by simply reclassifying who has his wealth – though it does raise eyebrows that he has repeatedly refused to release the agreement with the House Ethics Committee.

What matters locally is that his wealth has played a very direct role in his initial election in 2012 and his reelection in 2014.

In 2012 Pittenger was one of the top self-funders to run for Congress.  He poured over $2.3 million of his own money into his primary and general election campaigns.  Not only did he spend astronomically from his own coffers, most of that money was actually given to his campaign.  It is not uncommon for wealthy candidates to spend their own money, but more often than not they are loaning their campaigns money.  Pittenger gave his campaign nearly $1.7 million.

The difference may sound subtle, but the underlying message to opponents is “I am willing to spend whatever it takes to win, and I really mean it.  Give up!”

In 2012 nobody gave up, but the money did have an impact.  Pittenger ultimately overwhelmed all of his primary opponents with his ability to advertise.  It is also easy to argue that it pulled out the general election for him against Democrat Jennifer Roberts.  Roberts actually won Mecklenburg country where she was well known from her days on the County Commission, but Pittenger won every single precinct in Iredell and Union counties.  Yes, those are heavily Republican areas, but the money advantage sure didn't hurt.

In 2014 after proving money was no object, Pittenger had only nominal opposition in the primary and ran unopposed in the general election.

If it turns out that there is something to this investigation and the money that has backed the Congressman’s campaigns is somehow tainted, it won't just be his finances and reputation that takes a hit.

Voters’ choices at the ballot box for two election cycles will have been impacted when that situation never really should have occurred.

Bonus Observation:  A  story over at says the trial balloons are already floating for a possible replacement/primary challenger.  Things could be about to get interesting

This story first appeared in the Herald Weekly at

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