RALEIGH – The North Carolina Democratic Party, which has staggered through months of infighting in the wake of sexual harassment allegations at party headquarters, is well behind in the race for money with Republicans heading into the fall election.
Campaign finance reports filed this week with the State Board of Elections show the state party raised a little less than $185,000 during a 10-week period between late April and June 30, when it had $188,000 in cash on hand. Those numbers are a small fraction of the money accumulated by the state Republican Party, which reported raising nearly $772,000 during the period and having $965,500 in cash.
The state GOP, whose fundraising operations improved in the 2010 election cycle and benefited from its members taking control of the Legislature in early 2011, outraised the state Democratic Party in almost every category. State Republicans brought in $554,000 from outside political committees such as political action committees — more than three times the $166,000 Democrats raised.
The disparity is more dramatic when it comes to individual contributions. The reports show Republicans raked in $212,000, while Democrats brought in a meager $2,700, the reports said.
“There was extreme disarray with the Democratic Party in North Carolina, and there isn’t a solid message going forward about how to make the state better,” said state Republican Party spokesman Rob Lockwood. “They’re giving their donors nothing to invest in.”
The GOP advantage is a reversal of fortune compared to previous election cycles, when the Democrats’ control of the Executive Mansion and the Legislature usually has given them a comfortable fundraising lead. Just four years ago, the state Democratic Party had raised $510,000 during a similar period ending June 30 — more than double the total by the state Republican Party.
State Democratic Party spokesman Walton Robinson said the comparatively low fundraising has nothing to do with recent turmoil within the party.
Party Chairman David Parker remains at his job even after Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue, party gubernatorial nominee Walter Dalton and other Democratic statewide elected leaders called on him to resign over his handling of sexual harassment allegations against the former party executive director. Executive Director Jay Parmley resigned but denied harassing a now former employee.
“At the end of the day, the stakes in the election are what people focus in on,” Robinson said. “This other stuff is good for pundits and inside baseball, but N.C. voters are concerned with economy, education and kitchen table issues.”
Parker submitted his resignation to Democratic activists in May, but a majority of the party’s executive committee declined to accept it. Parker returned to his job, giving a political black eye to Dalton, who had spoken to committee members hours before and thanked Parker for stepping aside. It also angered national Democratic leaders as they prepare for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte and as President Barack Obama campaigns hard in North Carolina, a battleground state.
Robinson attributes the disadvantage to in part to the GOP control of the Legislature. The party with power often attracts more contributions. Robinson said it’s also helped Republicans that Pat McCrory faced no significant challenges in his May gubernatorial primary, while Democrats had a competitive primary in which donors gave to Dalton and his rivals.
Reports released earlier in the week from the same period show Dalton collected less than half of McCrory’s haul. Dalton raised $1.05 million and ended with $714,000 in cash. McCrory raised $2.2 million and ended with nearly $4.4 million on hand.
“You can always do better, but given the competing interests I feel like we’re in good shape,” Robinson said. Robinson expects the cash gap to close as the election draws closer.
Other Democrats are not as certain that the very public Democratic Party infighting has not been a turnoff for donors.
“Certainly Mr. Parker’s decision to stay on didn’t help,” said Democratic strategist Perry Woods. “... But I don’t think that’s the only reason. We’re the minority party, and pay-to-play lives.”
Other Democrats lagged well behind their Republican peers, according to fundraising reports. Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt reported raising $42,000 for the 10-week period. The Buncombe County Democrat entered July with nearly $45,000 cash on hand.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, reported raising nearly $152,000 and had $770,000 cash on hand.
Legislative leaders have historically been conduits for fundraising for fellow General Assembly candidates. The leaders’ campaign committees can give unlimited amounts of money to their respective parties, which in turn can send unlimited amounts to other candidates. The method bypasses state laws that limit individual donations to candidates of $4,000 per election.