• Millions for referendum fights come from little-known groups

    By: GARY D. ROBERTSON, Associated Press

    Updated:
    RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Top campaign organizations that helped defeat two North Carolina constitutional amendments on this week's ballot received multimillion-dollar contributions from liberal-leaning groups that aren't required to reveal who funds them.

    The chief campaign finance report this fall for what's called "Stop Deceptive Amendments" - received in the mail by state regulators on Election Day - reveals how it raised nearly $7.8 million for television commercials and other ads.

    Overall, pro- and anti-referendum groups raised more than $20 million combined to attempt to sway public opinion on the six ballot questions, according to campaign reports. Voters approved four of the questions legislative Republicans put on the ballot but soundly rejected two that would have swung power over judicial vacancy and election board appointments from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to the legislature.

    Two-thirds of the money collected by "Stop Deceptive Amendments" came from a pair of Washington-based entities that support liberal causes. They were formed under parts of the federal tax law as social-welfare groups, so they don't have to disclose the identities of donors.

    The Sixteen Thirty Fund gave $3.5 million and the State Engagement Fund gave $1.65 million, according to the Stop Deceptive Amendments pre-election report.

    This year, the Sixteen Thirty Fund also gave millions to support a Michigan referendum to create an independent redistricting commission and a minimum wage increase referendum in Missouri. Both of those questions passed Tuesday.

    The fund "supports campaigns that fight to protect democracy," Sixteen Thirty Fund spokeswoman Beth Kanter said in an email Friday, calling the Stop Deceptive Amendments effort a campaign "that aimed to protect checks and balances and prevent partisan politics from being permanently entrenched in the North Carolina state constitution."

    The State Engagement Fund's annual federal tax filing in 2016 showed it gave millions combined that year to left-leaning groups for voter education and get-out-the-vote activities, as well as community organizing. The fund's tax filing lists Scott Anderson, the former executive director of the North Carolina Association of Educators, as one of its leaders. Anderson didn't return a phone call Friday seeing comment.

    Separately, the State Engagement Fund gave $3.3 million this year to North Carolina Citizens for Protecting Our Schools, which ran television ads opposing an amendment that lowered the state's income tax rate cap from 10 percent to 7 percent. That amendment passed, as did questions requiring photo identification to vote in person, creating the right to hunt and fish and expanding the rights of crime victims.

    While Stop Deceptive Amendments opposed all six amendments, their ads focused primarily on the two that failed. The commercials highlighted the opposition to the pair by all living former Republican and Democratic governors.

    Marsy's Law for NC, which ran ads supporting the crime victims' amendment, reported receiving over $7.9 million. All of the money came from the national Marsy's Law group, which is bankrolled by California tech company founder Henry Nicholas. Similar victims' amendments in five other states passed Tuesday, with Marsy's Law group backing.

    A pro-voter ID political committee reported raising over $900,000 for ads that linked the voter ID question to state Senate candidates. Nearly all of "NC Voter ID" group money came from the Republican State Leadership Committee, which backs GOP candidates in the states. The RSLC reveals its nationwide donors, which includes scores of corporations.

    Pre-election campaign finance reports had to be filed electronically or postmarked by Oct. 29. "Stop Deceptive Amendments" revealed last week how much money it had raised. Widespread disclosure of donors didn't occur until Election Day, when the board said it received the group's report in the mail.

    The envelope containing the report - scanned onto the elections board website - shows the Oct. 29 postage originated from Ocracoke - an Outer Banks island accessible only by boat and several hours away from Raleigh, where the committee is based.

    Michael Weisel, an attorney for Stop Deceptive Amendments, said Friday the group is in "full compliance with all state and federal laws and regulations."

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