Mailers target local candidate

Published 11:24 pm Sunday, October 17, 2010

Staff Writer

A “mailer” paid for by the North Carolina Republican Party’s executive committee depicts state Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort, in close proximity to left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore and liberal actress “Hanoi Jane” Fonda.
The mailer also depicts Williams’ head pasted onto the body of a man holding an Academy Award statuette, and criticizes the candidate for supporting “huge tax breaks for Liberal Hollywood Elitists,” evidently a reference to Williams’ support of state tax breaks for the film industry.
The advertisement, recently mailed to a household occupied by registered Democrats and, presumably, others, is the latest salvo in a sustained conservative effort to unseat Williams, a four-term incumbent from Washington.
Previously mailed ads, paid for by conservative activist entities Civitas Action and Americans for Prosperity, accuse Williams of being a member of the “wasteful spending hall-of-fame” and of favoring public financing for political campaigns.
Williams represents Beaufort County and northeast Pitt County in the House.
According to N.C. General Assembly records, Williams voted against House Bill 120, a public-financing proposal that passed by a vote of 60-56 on third reading April 21, 2009.
The measure did not pass the Senate, and, apparently, wasn’t taken up by that body in full.
The legislation would have given towns and cities statewide the option of appropriating funds to pay for municipal campaigns.
As for tax credits benefiting the film industry, Williams voted for House Bill 713, which expanded those credits. The bill passed July 9, was subsequently adopted by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Beverly Perdue.
It was unclear exactly how much the conservative groups had spent on these mailers.
Campaign reporting records available online showed Americans for Prosperity paid $20,256 to Desumo Strategies of Richmond, Va., in order to aid three candidates, including Williams’ Republican opponent, Bill Cook of the Cypress Landing community.
AFP also spent $2,736 with Washington Political Group of Atlanta, again favoring three candidates, including Cook.
The records show that $80,000 of the money tracked in this report was contributed by Variety Stores, which is owned by Art Pope and his family. Pope is a former member of the state House.
Pope and three members of his family have given Cook’s campaign a total of $16,000, $4,000 each — the maximum contribution an individual can give to a candidate during a given election cycle in North Carolina.
Variety Stores also gave $90,000 to Civitas Action on Aug. 2 and followed up with $100,000 on Sept. 10, state records show.
Civitas Action has sent out mailers targeting state House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange, and state Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight, D-Dare. Basnight represents Beaufort County in the Senate.
Updated campaign-reporting information specific to this race may not be available until Oct. 25, when third-quarter campaign reports are due at the State Board of Elections.
Beginning today, “48-hour reports” should begin to roll into the State Board of Elections. These reports are required for contributions of $1,000 or above, and must be sent in by a campaign or a political organization within 48 hours of their receipt.
Asked for his response to the mailer painting Williams as a liberal in league with “Hollywood big shots,” Cook said, “I saw that. I thought it was funny.”
Cook said he didn’t see the mailers from the state GOP or Civitas Action before they went to press.
“I hope it is to educate people as to exactly who their candidate is,” Cook commented. “When they look at Arthur Williams, he says he’s conservative, but he does not vote that way.”
Cook suggested the mailers are fair turnabout, claiming a Williams ad minimized the candidate’s Democratic affiliation in small print.
“As far as I’m concerned, that was misleading and deceptive,” he said.
Williams couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
Chocowinity Mayor Jimmy Mobley is one of Williams’ supporters. Mobley said he hadn’t seen the mailers, but added he’s offended by negative campaigning and believes other voters will be as well.
“To be honest with you, I really don’t like it,” he said. “I think a person should run on their own merits. And slamming one another, to me that turns me off. I think what Rep. Arthur Williams has done for this area to me speaks for itself.”
Mobley said he’s not surprised conservatives are spending a great deal of money on this race, but indicated that shouldn’t make a difference come Election Day.
Williams has been an effective lawmaker, according to Mobley, who said the candidate helped push through a local bill to extend the Town of Chocowinity’s extra-territorial jurisdiction to encompass part of the Cypress Landing community and protect the town’s water and sewer rights.
Mobley said he’s been a registered Democrat all his voting life.
“You vote for the person, really, and not for the party, and the man has done a good job,” he said of Williams.