Realtors’ group emerges as council race’s biggest spender

Oct. 30, 2013 @ 10:24 AM

City Council Ward 3 incumbent Don Moffitt continues to hold a large campaign-fundraising lead over all of this year’s other candidates for city office, reports to the county Board of Elections say.

But a statewide group, the N.C. Association of Realtors, has emerged as the campaign’s largest spender, having injected $47,600 into the race in recent weeks to pay for a series of independent mass mailings.

Moffitt as of Oct. 21 had raised $24,715, his final pre-election finance report to the Board of Election says. His Ward 3 opponent, Pam Karriker, has raised $6,560.

In the Ward 2 council race, the winner of the Oct. 8 primary, Eddie Davis, maintains his fundraising lead over second-place finisher Omar Beasley. Davis has received $10,718, to Beasley’s $4,948.

The Realtors group, working through a shell organization called the N.C. Homeowners Alliance, backs Beasley and Karriker.

The Greensboro-based organization’s report suggests it’s done four mailings, each time working through a Florida consultancy, Cornerstone Solutions & Communications, that worked last year for Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign.

Its mailings for Beasley and Karriker indicate that the effort this year is bankrolled by the National Association of Realtors, a Chicago-based trade group.

Beasley on Wednesday said he’s “honored to have received” the Realtors’ help.

“Lord knows, I wanted to do a mailer, but didn’t have money to do it myself,” he said. “My message is getting out there, that I’m for Durham, I’m about Durham, and it’s good to know people are hearing my message.”

Karriker said she “appreciate[s] the support” but hadn’t known it was forthcoming until people started telling her they’d received one of the mailers. She said Tuesday she’d been unaware of the scale of the Realtors’ spending.

Moffitt said he’s “not very concerned” about the effort as there’s recent precedent in Durham for big-dollar, independent-expenditure campaigns failing.

He specifically pointed to the $54,100 attempt by the would-be developers of the 751 South project, working through a group called the Durham Partnership for Progress, to swing the results of the 2012 Democratic Party primary for the County Commissioners.

The partnership backed a slate that included incumbents Brenda Howerton, Michael Page and Joe Bowser, plus first-time candidate Rickey Padgett. They finished fourth, fifth, seventh and 10th, respectively, in a race for five seats.

“I think it backfired on some of the candidates they were supporting,” Moffitt said.

Davis couldn’t be reached for comment.

The president of the Homeowners Alliance, Charlotte real estate agent Tommy Lawing Jr., said the group is “supporting business-friendly and Realtor-friendly candidates” on all levels of government, local, state and federal.

He declined to say who else it’s backing in North Carolina local-government races.

But The Greensboro News-Record reported Tuesday that the Realtors have spent $47,500 in that city this month supporting the re-election bids of Mayor Robbie Perkins and City Councilman Zack Matheny.

The paper quoted Perkins – who finished second in a preliminary vote earlier this month and faces questions about a string of personal and financial problems – as saying he doesn’t “know how you spend that much on mailers.”

Moffitt, however, said the group’s Durham report was “what I kind of expected” given the number of mailings it sent out.

It’s spent nearly five times as much on the Ward 2 and 3 races as Beasley and Karriker have managed for themselves combined, and not quite twice as much as what Moffitt and Davis have spent combined.

Meanwhile, in the Durham mayor’s race, incumbent Bill Bell told the elections board that he’s raised $11,085 for this year’s election. His challenger, Sylvester Williams, has raised $2,130.

Unopposed Ward 1 incumbent Cora Cole-McFadden has raised $645 this year.