Monday, February 26, 2024

Former candidate files election complaint against ‘dark money’ in House 19 race, group calls complaint “frivolous’

Political advertisements that feature Charlie Miller are the subject of a North Carolina State Board of Elections complaint filed by Miller's former opponent. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy NCSBE complaint)
Political advertisements that feature Charlie Miller are the subject of a North Carolina State Board of Elections complaint filed by Miller’s former opponent. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy NCSBE complaint)

SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — An unsuccessful House District 19 candidate has filed a State Board of Elections complaint against a recently-formed non-profit that supported his opponent’s campaign.

The complaint alleges the non-profit is a “sham organization” formed only to funnel and spend “dark money” to support Charlie Miller’s candidacy. A former top McCrory administration aide who helped form the non-profit described the complaint as frivolous and baseless.

Related: District 19 Republicans trade blows as Super Tuesday approaches. So, what’s a ‘fake Republican’ anyway?

Miller said he has no connection to the group and has no idea who they are. He said because the complaint doesn’t involve him or his campaign, he has no further comment. 

Political organization

Miller ran a successful Republican primary bid against opponent David Perry, who filed the complaint just days after the election. The complaint names Citizens for a Responsible Energy Future, Inc., a new non-profit political organization that sponsored advertisements featuring Miller ahead of the election. (In November, Miller will face Democratic candidate Marcia Morgan in the race to serve the recently redrawn New Hanover-Brunswick County House of Representatives seat.)

Perry does not allege Miller himself or his campaign conducted any misconduct. The complaint asserts the non-profit Citizens for a Responsible Energy Future, Inc. actually functions as a de facto political committee — not a political organization — which is subject to public financial disclosure requirements through the State Board of Elections.

General Statute §163-278.6(74) defines political committees as a group of two or more people that are either: controlled by a candidate, controlled by a political party, created by a corporation or business entity, has the major purpose to support or oppose the nomination of one or more clearly identified candidates, or is an affiliated party committee.

Evidence that material meets the definition of supporting one or more clearly identified candidates would include explicit language like “vote for” or “cast your ballot” according to General Statute § 163-278.14A. The mailers produced by Citizens for a Responsible Energy Future, Inc. do not include this language. Instead, the mailers feature information on Miller’s background and political stances.

These mailers are separate from the mailers Miller’s campaign funded that prominently described Perry as a “fake Republican.” Notable sponsors of Miller’s campaign include his former employer, Duke Energy, which donated $5,400 (the maximum permitted for direct campaign donations), $2,500 from Speaker of the House Tim Moore’s committee, and $1,000 from Representative Frank Iler’s committee.

The articles of incorporation for the Citizens for a Responsible Energy Future, Inc., formed Jan. 30, state the group “shall not have as its major purpose the support or defeat of candidates for public office.” Its primary purpose is to advocate for a “sustainable energy future through responsible policies that promote prosperity, economic growth and well-being,” according to its incorporating document.

“David Perry has filed a completely baseless and frivolous nuisance complaint,” Tony Almeida, whose address is listed as the non-profit’s principal office, said Wednesday in an emailed statement.

Governor Pat McCrory’s senior advisor between 2013-2014, Almeida previously worked for 32 years as vice president of economic development at Duke Energy, according to the Salisbury Post. Almeida now runs his own consulting firm and serves as vice president of sales of the conservative-leaning North State Journal, according to his LinkedIn profile.

“Citizens for a Responsible Energy Future is a tax-exempt political organization that sponsors communications to inform the public about important issues. It does not sponsor independent expenditures and therefore, is not required to file independent expenditure reports or register with the State elections agency,” Almeida wrote in the email.

The complaint alleges that even if the non-profit isn’t a political committee, it still should be required to submit an independent expenditure report to the State Board of Elections. According to the State Campaign Finance Manual, independent expenditures are made in support or opposition of one or more clearly identified candidates that are not coordinated with the candidates or agents of the candidates.

If an individual or entity independently spends more than $100 supporting or opposing a candidate, the expenditures must be reported, according to the campaign finance manual. These expenses must be reported within 30 days after the $100 expenditure or 10 days before the election, whichever is sooner.

The mailers that support Miller’s campaign clearly note they were not authorized by any candidate. This language is required by a state disclosure law that governs political advertisements.

The State Board of Elections has received the complaint and it remains under review.

NCSBE CF Complaint by Johanna Ferebee Still on Scribd

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