CHARLOTTE, N.C. – We’re used to seeing politicians on the air nearly nonstop during election years. But even though Gov. Pat McCrory isn’t up for reelection until 2016, a tax-exempt group is spending six figures to put in him commercials now.
McCrory, in an interview that aired on NBC Charlotte’s “Flashpoint” back in August, admitted that his approval numbers have been low. “I’m shocked they’re that high,” he said, “Because we’re stepping on the toes of the status quo.”
This week, an ad appeared. In it, the governor talks about ideas meant to move North Carolina forward: tax reform, educational reform, changes to unemployment and so on.
Watch the ad here
“We’re stepping on the toes of the left and the right to make tough, necessary changes,” he says in the ad.
The commercial isn’t paid for by the governor, nor his campaign money. The ads were produced by the Renew North Carolina Foundation, an independent tax-exempt 501(c)(4) group. Its chairman is John Lassiter, a former Charlotte city councilman and former McCrory campaign manager, who the governor appointed to be chairman of the North Carolina Economic Development Board.
“We’re not in existence for political reasons,” said Brian Nick, a former McCrory campaign strategist who’s now Renew North Carolina’s spokesperson. “We’re in existence to advocate for issues that we feel are very important for North Carolina. We asked him to participate to speak on the issues we felt were important to get the message out on.”
501(c)(4) groups are not allowed to coordinate with candidates, but technically, McCrory isn’t a candidate yet, since he doesn’t come up for reelection until 2016. The ad also stays away from language asking for your vote or support. Because of that, groups like Renew North Carolina, which support Gov. McCrory’s recent initiatives, can put politicians like McCrory in their TV ads.
McCrory spokeswoman Kim Genardo said the governor’s office had absolutely no involvement with the commercial.
“What I think Renew North Carolina is attempting to do is put forward Pat McCrory without Pat McCrory having to make the investment of his own resources,” said Dr. Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College in Salisbury.
Renew North Carolina is spending a lot of money on the McCrory ad-- at least $343,570, according to television station public files examined Wednesday by NBC Charlotte. The ads appear on stations in Charlotte, Raleigh and the Triad. Of those cities, polls from both the left-leaning Public Policy Polling and the right-leaning Civitas Institute show the governor’s approval rating is lowest in Raleigh. That’s where most of the ad money, $234,350, is going. Television stations in Charlotte received $44,520 to air the ad, while Renew North Carolina spent $64,700 to air its ad in the Triad television market.
So while Renew North Carolina and Governor McCrory may share the same ideas, for now, the governor’s not the one spending the money to get those ideas out.
“This is probably the new approach that a lot of candidates are starting to take,” says Bitzer. “We normally associate this with a campaign. Now we're starting to see this in the actual governance phase.”