In the bitterly contested race for the U.S. Senate contest in North Carolina, a mysterious “dark money” nonprofit took to the airwaves in an effort to tip the balance in favor of the Republican candidate.
State House Speaker Thom Tillis, the Republican, was running against Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan in a pivotal race that would in part decide the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. The group, called Carolina Rising, ultimately ran nearly 4,000 ads praising Tillis.
“Thanks to Speaker Tillis and Gov. McCrory, when your kids go back to school this year, their future just got a little brighter,” said one ad that aired more than 1,700 times. The ad also mentioned North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who wasn’t on the ballot this year.
In August, Carolina Rising ran more TV ads than either Tillis or Hagan, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data provided by Kantar Media/CMAG, an ad tracking firm.
Interesting thing though, the ads weren’t really political — at least not according to the group that paid for them
“You’re the one who said we participated in the election,” Dallas Woodhouse, the group’s president and founder, told the Center for Public Integrity. “Those are issue ads. Those are not political ads."
Woodhouse, a former North Carolina state leader of Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit affiliated with billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, maintains Carolina Rising jumped in to defend Tillis after it became clear Hagan and the Democrats were going to attack him based on the policies passed by the state legislature.
The group, he added, was just carrying out its mission by boosting policies passed by the sitting speaker of the state House.
To the average viewer, Carolina Rising’s TV spots sure looked like political advertising. But under the law, they are really known as “electioneering communications." That means they name a candidate and run inside a certain timeframe but don’t tell voters to vote for or against anyone.