PACs boost incumbents’ money leads

Published 5:53 am Friday, July 23, 2010

Staff Writer

Staff Writer
Two incumbent congressmen representing different parts of Beaufort County continue to trounce their opponents in the election-year money chase, and it looks as if their fundraising advantages will be difficult, if not impossible, for the opposition to overcome.
Both lawmakers have an edge partly because they have received substantial contributions from political action committees, suggests a recent report from Democracy North Carolina, which advocates for more open and inclusive elections.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., of Wilson had garnered $412,294 — or 74 percent of his campaign cash — from PACs as of June 30, the advocacy group said, citing reports from the Federal Election Commission.
The six-year veteran congressman recorded $147,863 in contributions from individuals, and had $304,051 cash on hand at the end of June.
By contrast, Butterfield’s Republican opponent, Ashley Woolard of Washington, had raised a little more than $54,000 from individuals, and he had $3,914 cash on hand at the close of the same period.
Woolard had taken no PAC money.
U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., R-N.C., of Farmville had taken in $221,930 from PACs, or 44 percent of the money in his coffers.
Jones got $277,778 from individuals, and he had $146,291 cash on hand at June’s finish.
Johnny Rouse, Jones’ Democratic opponent from Winterville, had picked up $3,678 from individuals, and he had only $1,007 cash on hand at the close.
Democracy North Carolina’s report notes that the 13 incumbent members of the state’s congressional delegation “are swamping their challengers by a nearly 5-to-1 fundraising advantage, $8.2 million to $1.8 million.”
“The advantage that both Republican and Democrat incumbents enjoy is largely due to the money they raise from political action committees sponsored by business, labor and other special interest groups,” the organization’s analysis reads.
Among the PACs that have given to Butterfield’s campaign this year are the National Association of Realtors’ PAC, which sent him $1,000, and the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. PAC for Responsible Government, which also contributed $1,000.
Jones counts among his contributors the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, which gave him $1,000, and the National Council of Textile Organizations Inc. PAC, which also gave him $1,000.
In an interview, Butterfield pointed to the fact that campaign law bars members of Congress from soliciting funds from churches, nonprofits or corporations.
That leaves PACs and individuals as the only legal options, and campaigns are costly, he said.
“Those are the rules that we are governed by, and so I solicit from those two groups,” Butterfield commented.
In the Democracy North Carolina news release, director Bob Hall is quoted as saying, “There’s no law against federal legislators holding fundraisers with PACs and lobbyists while in session, as there is for our state legislators, and with year-round sessions, a huge appetite for campaign money, and no public financing alternative, that’s not likely to change.”
North Carolina has a part-time Legislature, Butterfield said in response.
“Congress, by contrast, is a full-time endeavor, and we are full-time congressmen,” he said. “We do this 24/7, so I don’t think it’s a good comparison. We are allowed to solicit contributions while in session. We have to do it with discretion.”
As for PAC money, Woolard, Butterfield’s challenger, didn’t swear off cash from special-interest sources after he kicked off his campaign.
“I’m not going to say I’m not going to accept any money from PACs,” Woolard told the Daily News late last year. “But we won’t take it blindly, I’ll tell you that much.”
In an interview Thursday, Bill Tarpenning, Woolard’s campaign manager, spoke to the difficulty of generating campaign funds.
“In these hard times, raising money is difficult, but we’ve been out there working constantly,” Tarpenning remarked.
Woolard’s camp is planning fundraisers through mid-September, and hopes to utilize media sources ranging from radio to television to newspapers to social-networking sites in the coming months, he said.
Tarpenning said the campaign has engaged as its senior advisor one Vernon Robinson, a former congressional candidate and a former member of Winston-Salem’s City Council. Robinson is advising the campaign on how to generate campaign cash, Tarpenning added.
Woolard’s organization initially set a fundraising target of $250,000, a goal that now appears unreachable.
“I don’t think we’ll do that,” Tarpenning acknowledged. “That was an early target. If I had $150,000 in the bank on the 15th of September, I would consider that a good thing, and I know this race is winnable.”
Though Butterfield is the indisputable fundraising leader in the race, he’s not leaving anything to chance.
The incumbent said he anticipates spending $400,000 to $600,000 on his re-election effort.
“It’s going to be a costly campaign,” Butterfield said. “I take re-election very seriously. I know that Ashley Woolard is a mainstream Republican, and so I believe that he will have resources at his disposal to compete for this seat.”