Politics & Government

Senate candidate made $70,000 mistake on fundraising form. It’s more than she raised.

Former U.S. Rep. Eva Clayton hosted a fundraiser for Erica Smith on Aug. 29 in Littleton. The setting, overlooking Lake Gaston, was beautiful and represented a $700 in-kind contribution to Smith, who is running for the 2020 Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.

But when Smith submitted her federally required campaign finance report this week, Clayton’s contribution was listed as worth $70,000 — a figure well above the legal limit and one that more than doubled the total amount Smith reported raising.

The $70,000 figure appeared twice on the form.

It was not the only irregularity in the reports or with Smith’s federal filings.

Smith, a state senator from Northampton County, said it was a mistake on the part of her campaign’s volunteer treasurer. The campaign filed an amended report Wednesday. Monica Smith-Woofter is listed as the campaign’s treasurer on its financial forms and its statement of candidacy.

Smith-Woofter is the former superintendent of Northampton County Public Schools and Erica Smith’s sister, according to the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald.

“I have regular people, many of whom are not experienced,” Smith said in an interview with The News & Observer. “I’m so proud of the hard work they are doing on my behalf. ... I’m excited about the energy. It is a learning curve for everyday people who have not been a part of this political machine.”

Smith didn’t sign the form to the Federal Election Commission, and wasn’t required to.

The report is supposed to contain fundraising and spending information from the most recent quarter — July, August and September — as well as information from the entire campaign cycle. Smith’s detailed summary page on the FEC site does not include the information for the entire cycle.

Smith said she was not aware of that error, but her campaign was working with the FEC to get her form corrected.

Some donations appear to exceed the $2,800 limit for the primary election, but it is unclear if some of those donations should be marked for the general election, where contributors are allowed to donate another $2,800.

Smith has not filed her personal financial disclosure with the Senate, as all candidates are required to do within 30 days of becoming a candidate.

Smith filed to run for Senate in February. Reports that are more than 30 days late are subject to a mandatory $200 penalty. The penalty can rise to $50,000 for knowing and willful non-compliance.

Democrats’ fundraising

Smith reported raising $21,300 in the first quarter of the year (January, February and March). She reported raising $68,600 in the second quarter of the year, but that figure came in an amended report. Her first report for the second quarter had her total at $41,000.

Her amended report this week reported raising $45,150 in the third quarter. All told, according to her filings, Smith has raised about $135,000.

Cal Cunningham, her top competitor for the Democratic nomination, raised just over $1 million in the third quarter alone. Incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican, raised $1.2 million in the quarter and has nearly $5 million cash on hand for the race.

Tillis’ 2014 campaign against Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan was the most expensive Senate race in history ($121.3 million) when factoring in candidate and outside spending.

“Listen, we know what the numbers look like,” said Smith, who pointed out that she has not loaned her campaign a large sum of money. “We don’t come from wealth, we come from hard work. My donors are mothers, teachers, blue-collar workers, students. Folks out there who are donating $5. ... We’ve got to get beyond promoting only the wealthy being able to run for office. We’re a democracy, not a plutocracy.”

Smith has loaned her campaign $4,500. Cunningham loaned his campaign $200,000. Republican challenger Garland Tucker has loaned or donated more than $1.2 million to his campaign. Tillis loaned his 2014 campaign $250,000.

Smith said she plans to spend more time fundraising in the fourth quarter. She said her campaign has rented office space in Raleigh, making it easier for her to make fundraising calls while still working as a state lawmaker.

“It’s certainly almost a giant David vs. Goliath for a brand-new candidate starting out,” Smith said, adding that she took inspiration from candidates like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who come from working-class backgrounds.

In two polls, Smith has been tied with or leading Tillis. In a Meredith College poll conducted this month, Smith led Tillis 33.5% to 33.1% in a hypothetical matchup. In an Emerson poll conducted earlier this summer, she led Tillis 46% to 39%.

Smith is not the only candidate falling behind on the money front. Democratic candidate Trevor Fuller, a Mecklenburg County commissioner, raised just $576. He listed only a single contribution: $300 from a New York lawyer.

“I think you’re going to see a difference in the fourth quarter,” Fuller said. “But ultimately you’ve got to get people to vote for you and that’s what I’m focusing on.”

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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.
Jim Morrill, who grew up near Chicago, covers state and local politics. He’s worked at the Observer since 1981 and taught courses on North Carolina politics at UNC Charlotte and Davidson College. To subscribe to The Observer, go to: www.charlotteobserver.com/jim.