RALEIGH — Pat McCrory’s campaign and the political committees behind a television commercial McCrory says is false filed competing legal actions that raise the ante in North Carolina’s gubernatorial race.
The Democratic Governors Association and the group N.C. Citizens for Progress filed a complaint in Wake County court asking a judge to rule the commercial about McCrory’s connections to a Charlotte-based business as true and constitutionally protected.
The complaint, which names McCrory, a Republican, and his campaign as defendants, was filed Thursday, hours before the Pat McCrory Committee filed a notice that it was starting civil action against leaders of the two groups. It has until mid-June to sue, according to the paperwork.
McCrory and his campaign also have been threatening lawsuits against TV stations that air the ad, which started last week, and asked the Federal Communications Commission to get involved. McCrory is most angry about an accusation that he lobbied for real estate and lending business Tree.com while mayor of Charlotte and three years before he joined the company’s board.
The lawyer for DGA and N.C. Citizens for Progress suggested he would seek to question McCrory under oath in the weeks before what’s expected to be a competitive election with Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton.
“We are confident the facts and the law are on our side and we refuse to let McCrory’s threats intimidate us or media outlets,” Michael Weisel, an attorney for N.C. Citizens for Progress, said Friday in a statement.
The competing litigation comes less than three weeks since Dalton and McCrory won their respective primaries. The DGA and the Republican Governors Association have spent more than $1.4 million combined on advertising since then. The RGA began running another ad Friday seeking to firm up Dalton’s policy ties to Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue, who isn’t seeking re-election.
Perdue is the vice chairwoman of the Democratic Governors Association and is listed as a likely defendant in the McCrory’s campaign lawsuit.
McCrory said he’s never been a registered lobbyist for Tree.com. The 2006 letter McCrory wrote as mayor and cited in the ad asked the state commerce secretary to boost state economic incentives to discourage LendingTree, a Tree.com business, from going to South Carolina.
“I’ve never had ethical indiscretions and for that ad to give that impression is a personal insult — not only to me but to the people of North Carolina,” McCrory said earlier this week.
N.C. Citizens for Progress produced the ad but the Democratic Governors Association paid for it. Campaign finance reports show N.C. Citizens for Progress has spent more than $430,000 on its ad campaign. The commercial has been airing on Triangle, Triad and Down East broadcast television stations.
Weisel said “to prove McCrory’s claims are false, we will move forward with discovery and plan to depose McCrory and his associates before November 2012, to answer questions about his business relationships and his contact with public officials.”
Weisel confirmed late Friday a new version of the commercial was now running. The changes were made, he said, “to clarify and make the ad stronger” but that his group still stood behind the previous version. State Republican Party spokesman Rob Lockwood said the switch “should serve as proof that their old spot was as charged: dishonest and misleading.”
McCrory’s campaign said Friday the legal matters will be handled by the lawyers and that McCrory is focused on the economy and who is best prepared to be governor.
“We’re not going to be sidetracked with a back and forth with a third-party group,” campaign spokesman Brian Nick said.
Dalton’s campaign lit into McCrory, saying his public pledge Thursday to run fair campaign ads this election rang hollow as the Republican Governors Association ran another ad accusing Dalton of voting repeatedly for higher taxes while in the state Senate. The RGA has spent more $1 million on running a pair of anti-Dalton ads this month, RGA spokesman Mike Schrimpf said.
“For McCrory to stand before the media and call for a clean campaign on the same day that his political hatchet men launch yet another misleading attack is a new low,” Dalton spokesman Ford Porter said. Nick said the RGA ads are based on voting records, not attacking someone’s character.
Campaign rules prevent third-party groups from coordinating activities with candidate committees.