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RALEIGH, NC — Last week, one of Mitch McConnell’s top aides and head of McConnell’s super PAC Steven Law admitted McConnell’s super PAC fully funded the meddling effort in North Carolina’s Democratic primary under the name “Faith and Power PAC.” Tillis also revealed in a new FEC filing that he now uses Chain Bridge Bank, the same bank used by this shady super PAC.
It is not unusual for a super PAC to form with the express purpose of running ads in a specific state. What is unprecedented is the fact that “Faith and Power PAC” posed as a Democratic group supporting a specific Democratic candidate over another, placing mostly pro-Erica Smith TV, radio and digital ads, sending pro-Smith mailers, and using tactics like texting and push polling.
While this effort was unprecedented in its level of dirty trickery, it was par for the course for the Thom Tillis operation, which has a long history of questionable coordination with dark money groups and outside spending, resulting in multiple complaints with the FEC and IRS. Below is a reminder of Tillis’ past scandals:
#1: Senator Tillis’ 2014 campaign benefitted from millions of dollars in spending by the NRA. But his campaign and the NRA shared a media vendor, prompting a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog to file a complaint with the FEC alleging they may have violated campaign finance law.
The Tillis campaign paid media firm OnMessage while the NRA paid Starboard Strategic, which “had never appeared in Federal Election Commission reports” prior to 2013. According to records from the FEC, OnMessage and Starboard share leadership and addresses, proving the two entities were “functionally one and the same.”
According to Politico: “In 2014, among OnMessage’s most prominent clients were three Republican challengers vying for Senate seats in the same races where the NRA would pay Starboard some of its biggest outlays of the cycle: Thom Tillis, in North Carolina… All of these candidates would defeat Democratic incumbents, cementing the result for which GOP leaders and the NRA had mobilized: a Republican majority in the upper chamber to match the one in the House. Each challenger paid OnMessage $5 million to $8 million, far more than they paid any other vendors.”
Former Republican FEC Chair Trevor Potter said the connections raised “substantial questions about whether OnMessage and Starboard Strategic were used as conduits for coordination between the NRA and the candidates it was supporting.”
The Director of Federal Reform at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, which filed a complaint with the FEC, said there was “substantial evidence that the NRA funneled millions through a shell corporation to unlawfully coordinate with candidates it was backing.”
#2: Tillis’ 2014 campaign benefited in $1.4 million from John Bolton’s super PAC. Both Tillis and John Bolton’s super PAC were simultaneously paying Cambridge Analytica, raising questions of illegal coordination. The North Carolina GOP also paid Cambridge Analytica during that cycle.
According to the Raleigh News & Observer, publicly available information at the time led the Campaign Legal Center to say “‘there is reason to believe’ that Cambridge Analytica used or conveyed information about the NC GOP and/or the Tillis’ campaign’s ‘plans, projects, activities or needs.’”
One of the clearest examples was the online portfolio of a British Citizen working for Cambridge Analytic at the time who “wrote on his website that he spent three months in North Carolina, helping Tillis’ campaign create highly targeted advertising. On the same site, he posted a video of a Bolton ad in support of Tillis.”
Once a formal complaint had been filed, the online portfolio was “changed, removing the Bolton ad and replacing the language about Tillis’ campaign with more generic language — ‘helped the local party create a raft of communications.’”
The North Carolina Democratic Party filed an FEC complaint alleging that Thom Tillis and the North Carolina GOP had violated federal election law, saying they “‘knowingly assisted Cambridge Analytica’s foreign national employees in influencing’ Tillis’ 2014 campaign against incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan.’”
The Campaign Legal Center filed an FEC complaint alleging that John Bolton’s super PAC made “illegal, excessive and unreported in-kind contributions” to Tillis’ campaign through Cambridge Analytica.
#3: Tillis’ 2014 campaign benefited from ads funded by Carolina Rising, which may have abused its nonprofit status by spending 97 percent of its money, nearly $5 million, boosting Tillis through TV ads.
Carolina Rising was a non-profit and as such was not supposed to spend the majority of its resources on political activity.
According to the Associated Press: “Carolina Rising’s 2014 tax return showed it spent about $4.6 million on advertisements, an amount equal to nearly all its contributions.”
The political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint with the IRS alleging that Carolina Rising was a political group “posing as non-profit social welfare organizations but existing only to benefit […] the Senate campaign of Thom Tillis.”