Early look at post-election reflections

by | Oct 28, 2014 | 2014 Elections, Campaign Finance, NC Politics | 3 comments

A week from now we’ll have our final march to the polls for 2014.  While campaign winners and losers will be contemplating new opportunities, North Carolina politicos and voters – no matter who wins the marquee U.S. Senate race — will assess the impact the 2014 campaign has had on the way politics and public discourse are conducted.  Consider these:

— The total cost of conducting a highly competitive campaign in North Carolina is at least $90 million.  Two thirds of that money comes from non-candidate related sources.  These independent spenders, like Carl Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the Koch Brothers assortment of front groups, Carolina Rising, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Patriot Majority and more, aren’t in this campaign as a civic exercise.  Whether it is Democrat Kay Hagan or Republican Thom Tillis, the $60 million is a down payment. The candidates know well, the folks behind this money and there is the very real expectation to deliver.  In some cases, be it abortion, guns, gay rights, the return on investment is obvious.  But in many others, secret donors have pumped in hundreds of thousands, of not millions, with the expectation that if the candidate they backed wins, he or she will show appreciation for the affection that was bestowed on them during the campaign Without knowing who the donors are, where they are from, or their motivations, how will North Carolina voters hold their elected officials accountable?

— Are North Carolina candidate campaign organizations, particularly on a congressional and statewide level, irrelevant?  Neither Tillis nor Hagan have run fantastic campaigns.  Just look at the numbers and the evidence is clear – just ask any political operative you know (including the kid who ran the campaign for the 6th grade class president) – that the Tillis campaign has been a flop.  The only thing that will save it from complete failure will be the millions of outside dollars (see above) that have flooded and overshadowed Tillis’ abysmal efforts.  His performance as a campaigner has been lackluster, at best.  On money raised directly for their campaigns, Hagan’s led Tillis in fundraising $21.55 million to $8.2 million — more than $2.50 to $1.  All together, more than $37.1 million has been spent on Tillis’ behalf and what his campaign has raised represents a mere 22 percent of that total.  There’s little excuse.  Tillis, who spent two terms as Speaker of the House, should be swimming in cash.  He’s the guy who’s delivered – and big time.  He engineered redistricting that will keep Republican in unbreakable control of the legislature, at least until the end of the decade.  He delivered on a ultra-pro business, anti-regulation agenda and worked to diminish the influence of one of the right’s most despised influence groups, the N.C. Association of Educators.  There should be fleets of Brinks’ trucks full of donations making deliveries on the hour to his campaign office.  No doubt many of these groups have found other avenues to express their appreciation and gratitude, through the several non-affiliated political operations.

Voters have no way of knowing or holding Tillis’ accountable for his backers and their expectations (this, by the way, is no different for Hagan, who’s $21.55 million represents 39% of the $55.9 million spent on her behalf).  With the closeness of the campaign, does it even matter if candidates have much of a campaign organization – other than something that gets them through a primary?

So, in the after-election introspection, critical questions North Carolinians likely will be asking about the recently ended campaign are: Have North Carolina’s elections been hijacked by outside forces, unaccountable to North Carolina voters?  Similarly, has this made North Carolina’s elected officials unaccountable to the people who voted them into office?


  1. Carol Teal

    Totally agree with Walt.

  2. Dr. Walt De Vries

    Seth is right. What this Senate race proves is that $100 million was basically spent on tv
    production and time buying. And what did it do? Basically nothing. Over the months, nothing really moved in the statewide polls. However, we now know that a lot of Washington-based consultants and tv time buyers (using out-of-state, unaccountable funds) made a killing. Too bad that money could not have been used to build this state up and not tear it down.
    Such is the state of North Carolina politics.
    Walt De Vries

    • Thomas Mills

      Thanks for reading, Walt.

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