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U.S. Senate race in N.C. already drawing big money; GOP incumbent Thom Tillis has huge advantage over top Democratic fundraiser, Cal Cunningha

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis is relying on big-money donors and industry political action committees to raise money for his 2020 re-election bid, according to an analysis of fundraising in the U.S. Senate race for one of North Carolina’s two seats by the McClatchy news organization and the Center for Responsive Politics.

Tillis, a Republican, has raised $7.3 million for his re-election campaign, with 48% coming from contributions of more than $200 from individuals and another 40% coming from PACs. Tillis has raised just 4% of his money from small-dollar donors, defined as people who give $200 or less.

PACs typically make donations to congressional incumbents, but Tillis ranks second in the Senate in for the amount of PAC money received for the 2020 election cycle, and other Republicans facing 2020 races have been able to tap into the small-donor network. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who, like Tillis, is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, raised 36% of his money from small donors from July through September as part of a record-setting $3.3 million haul in the third quarter of the year, The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., reported.

Tillis has received 601 campaign donations from people who hit the legal maximum the year they contributed, adding up to $2.6 million. As of now, individuals can donate up to $2,800 for the primary election and $2,800 for the general election.

“Senator Tillis has strong support from grassroots conservatives across the state, and we plan to highlight that enthusiasm in the coming weeks,” Tillis campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo said in a statement. “Our campaign is pleased to have nearly five times as much cash on hand as our closest Democratic challenger, and we are confident Senator Tillis will have the resources necessary to win what we expect to be another record setting race in terms of spending, just like he did in 2014.”

Tillis faces primary challenges from retired Raleigh businessman Garland Tucker and Ayden farmer Sandy Smith. Three Democrats are running for the office: former state Sen. Cal Cunningham, state Sen. Erica Smith and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller. The general election is expected to be close, with several national analysts now listing the race as “lean Republican” or “toss-up.”

Tillis’ 2014 campaign against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan was the most expensive race in U.S. Senate history at the time with nearly $124 million spent on the election, according to the Center For Responsive Politics. That includes money spent by the campaign and outside groups.

Tillis holds a large edge at this point: He has $4.9 million cash on hand.

Cunningham, the top fundraiser on the Democratic side, has $1.1 million cash on hand, a figure that is far below that of other Democratic challengers hoping to take on vulnerable Republican incumbents such as Arizona’s Mark Kelly, Maine’s Sara Gideon and Colorado’s John Hickenlooper. Cunningham entered the race in June.

Cunningham has taken 58% from individual contributions over $200 and 14% from small donors. He has not reported any corporate PAC money, but he has received 11% of his money from other PACs. Cunningham pledged in June not to take corporate PAC money in the election, though these PACs typically don’t back Senate challengers.

He loaned his campaign $200,000 and is involved in a joint fundraising committee that helps Democratic Senate challengers.

“Not only did Cal out-raise Senator Tillis in individual donations, but Senator Tillis had to depend on a corporate PAC money bailout just to keep up,” Aaron Simpson, Cunningham’s campaign spokesman, said in a statement, referencing third-quarter numbers. “Ninety-four percent of Cal’s contributions were less than $100, the kind of grassroots fundraising that Senator Tillis can’t match.”

Who’s giving what?

Tillis has received more than $2.9 million from PACs, second only to U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican who is also facing a tough 2020 re-election campaign. More than $2.4 million of that money has come from business-organized PACs, such as $10,000 from the US Anesthesia Partners PAC and $5,600 from the PAC for Charlotte-based US Radiology Specialists.

Both organizations were part of the lobbying coalition Physicians for Fair Coverage, which spent $4.1 million in the third quarter to lobby against legislation to cap the amount of money patients can be charged for out-of-network care — often referred to as surprise medical bills.

Tillis has received the second-most amount of money among senators from the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, trailing only Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. Tillis, between his campaign and his leadership PAC, took in more than $408,000 from the pharmaceutical industry, 78% of that from industry PACs.

Leadership PACs, which are run by other members of Congress, have given $450,756, and lobbyists have donated more than $400,000 to Tillis’ campaign.

Tillis is listed as a recipient of at least 12 joint fundraising committees, which are used to raise money for multiple candidates from big-dollar donors. He has raised $910,733 this cycle from those committees, which include the Tillis & Colleagues Victory Committee. That committee has raised more than $400,000 from seven donors.

Cunningham has raised $55,000 from the joint fundraising committee for Democratic Senate challengers. Titled 2020 Senate Impact, the committee brought in money from wealthy donors, including $5,600 from former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and $5,600 from billionaire hedge fund manager Stephen Mandel.

Tillis and Cunningham have raised the most money for the 2020 campaign.

On the Republican side, Tucker has given his campaign more than $1.27 million and raised about $450,000 from contributors. Sandy Smith has raised $265,000, including a $30,000 loan to her campaign. She has raised more from small donors ($152,448) than she has from those giving over $200 ($82,552).

On the Democratic side, Erica Smith has raised $133,800, which includes a $4,500 loan to her campaign. Smith, who said she is being powered by small donors, has raised less than $3,000 from contributions of under $200. Fuller has reported raising $31,597 this election cycle.

Outside spending

The American Foundations Committee, a super PAC supporting Tucker, spent $254,000 to air a TV ad that opens with an attack on “flip flop Thom Tillis.” The ad is airing on Fox News across the state.

“We believe in our conservative principles. We try and promote ideals consistent with that,” said Raleigh lawyer Ellis Boyle, a member of the committee. “We support Garland Tucker for Senate because we know he is a true conservative who won’t flip-flop when he gets to Washington, D.C. Senator Tillis pretended to be a conservative, but he’s settled right into the swamp.”

The Tillis campaign is airing TV ads accusing Tucker of lying about Tillis’ record on immigration and border security.

“Politician Garland Tucker. He lies like a dog, using deceptive editing to make it look like Tillis is against Trump,” the ad says.

The American Foundations Committee has reported one donation, $25,000 from Raleigh lawyer Joe Knott, who is Tucker’s brother-in-law. The rest of its donors must be reported in year-end reports. In addition to Knott and Boyle, other individuals involved with the committee include Boyd Sturges, Palmer Sugg and Allie Ray McCullen, Boyle said.

The committee is trying to raise money from outside its members, Boyle said. In the past, the committee has supported U.S. Rep. George Holding, a Raleigh Republican now in his fourth term in Congress. The super PAC spent $572,000 to help Holding in his 2012 primary and another $171,000 in his 2016 primary. In 2012, the super PAC was financed almost entirely by members of Holding’s family.

Holding said this week that he is not taking sides in the GOP primary.

Greatest Homecoming on Earth hits town

Look for photo galleries from the step show, parade and homecoming football game at greensboro.com and a photo package and game coverage in Sunday’s News & Record.

Hundreds trying to get into a new Greensboro affordable housing project proves there is a 'need'

GREENSBORO — Vanessa Campbell is one of the people lucky enough to find affordable housing in the city. There are many who can’t.

She has just moved into the Ryan Ridge Apartments on Rehobeth Church Road — 60 units partially financed with Greensboro housing bonds passed in 2016.

Developers say 58 of the apartments are already rented.

“That’s proof of what a need there is for nice homes for normal people in Guilford County,” Campbell said.

A group of city and business officials on Friday morning came to Ryan Ridge to talk about the $8 million project’s significance and cut a ribbon in celebration. It’s the first development that was assisted by the $25 million in housing bonds approved by residents a few years ago.

The need for affordable housing has been a pressing issue for city leaders. UNCG researchers say there are between 30,000 and 40,000 households in Greensboro that are “rent-burdened,” meaning a significant percent of their income pays for housing, leaving little money for other needs.

With the average rent in Greensboro at about $900 a month, developers find it easier to build luxury apartments because they earn higher profits.

Since public housing and private affordable housing are in such short supply, experts say part of the solution is to find private businesses that can benefit from tax credits and state and local financing programs like Greensboro’s housing bonds. They also have to be willing, like developer

“We need more money to do more projects,” said City Councilwoman Sharon Hightower, who represents the district where Ryan Ridge is located. “We got out and we pushed those bonds because we knew what they would do.”

Campbell said she feels lucky. The waiting list to land an apartment in the city is long. At Ryan Ridge, she pays $545 a month for a two-bedroom apartment that comes with walk-in closets, pantry and kitchen.

A customer service representative, Campbell said she came from a bad domestic situation and had been staying in a shelter before hearing about Ryan Ridge.

Only two apartments remain vacant, and Morgan said the waiting list is already at 500.

He will soon open a similar apartment complex on Elmsley Trail near the Rehobeth Church Road site. That will also feature 60 apartments and was made possible through bond money.

The developer said he’s happy that so many people can benefit from a project like Ryan Ridge.

“It’s not a handout,” he said, “it’s a leg up.”

An interesting article in today's paper

Sticks and stoners: People like to call this Outer Banks project the “world’s biggest bong.” Page A2

Four witnesses set for Monday's U.S. House hearing in Greensboro on human trafficking

Greensboro — A U.S. House subcommittee’s hearing here Monday will consider North Carolina’s improved posture in the battle against human trafficking as well as challenges it continues to face.

The House Subcommittee on Intelligence & Counterterrorism plans to hear from four North Carolina witnesses who have helped the state better it’s 2011 rating of D in efforts against human trafficking to an A last year.

The grades are issued each year by Shared Hope International, a nonprofit group that works both to prevent conditions that foster sex trafficking and to help its victims.

Experts divide human trafficking into two major categories. They include trafficking in which victims are exploited for commercial sex and trafficking that exploits people for their labor under such conditions as involuntary servitude, debt bondage or outright slavery.

Law enforcement officials continue to face hurdles in building criminal cases against those who exploit others so heartlessly, said Col. Aundrea Azelton, the chief deputy of the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office and one of the people scheduled to testify Monday.

“It’s hard to get a victim to come forward in any type of trafficking case,” Azelton said Thursday. “They are some of the most vulnerable citizens who are being taken advantage of.”

She said she will tell the subcommittee how important it is for all levels of government to cooperate in their efforts to detect human trafficking and root it out.

Greensboro-area Congressman Mark Walker, who represents the 6th Congressional District is the ranking Republican on the subcommittee that includes human trafficking among the issues under its purview.

Azelton said she was asked by Walker’s office to testify at the hearing. Her expertise in the field includes previous experience playing a lead role in human trafficking investigations for the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office.

Walker will be present at the hearing, as will the subcommittee’s chairman, U.S. Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., and several other of its members, said Adam Comis, the communications director for the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security that includes the subcommittee.

Officials have said the hearing will be open to the public.

Walker has played an important role in several pieces of legislation aimed at the human trafficking problem, including his sponsorship of key components of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act that was signed into law by then-President Barack Obama in 2015.

“Though I am proud of the success we have had in combating human trafficking, we must do more to ensure that this moral injustice ends and that perpetrators see prosecution,” Walker said in a Thursday news release.

Walker’s office released the names late Wednesday of witnesses who will testify at the hearing, which is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Monday in the Old Guilford County Courthouse, 301 W. Market St.

In addition to Azelton, the witnesses will be:

  • Christine Shaw Long, the executive director of the N.C. Human Trafficking Commission, based in Raleigh.
  • Ronnie A. Martinez, special agent for homeland security investigations in the Charlotte field office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
  • Carl L. Wall II, special agent in charge of the State Bureau of Investigation’s human trafficking unit.

Azelton said that in Randolph County she is helping assemble a plan to combat human trafficking using the sheriff office’s existing command structure without adding personnel.

She said that one challenge faced by many law enforcement agencies is training officers to recognize the telltale signs that they are dealing with someone who has been victimized by human traffickers.

The House subcommittee reported recently on its website that the hearing will focus on information sharing between local, state and federal officials who are battling human trafficking.

North Carolina is considered a high-volume state for human trafficking based on its caseload. In 2017, North Carolina ranked eighth among the 50 states for its 221 reported cases of human trafficking, according to statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

The N.C. Human Trafficking Commission, a division of the N.C. Judicial Branch, says on its website that a variety of factors contribute to the state’s high ranking. They include the many major highways that traverse the state, the large military installations with transient populations that attract sexually oriented businesses and the state’s numerous agricultural areas that have a great demand for cheap labor.