Caucus campaign committees would be new to Raleigh but have a long history

13339716533_c3bcacc134_kRALEIGH — Lawmakers passed a measure this week that allows House and Senate members to set up party committees to raise and spend money to elect members of their party to the General Assembly. The provision is in House Bill 373, which moved North Carolina’s primary date to March 15, and is causing a stir. While the change in caucus accounting is already in practice at the federal level, vocal opponents see it as a way to go around the newly elected chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party.  But supporters of the provision say that the move was an idea that has been around a long time and would increase transparency.

Under current law, the legislative caucuses – Republican and Democrat – can raise money to strengthen their numbers, but the money goes into the coffers of the party itself. Even though the money is tracked by the party, it gets co-mingled with other party funding and is then disbursed by the party for purposes the caucus organizations support. Generally, it goes to fund candidates, caucus events, and issue campaigns. The state parties also provide office space and some other overhead expenses to support the caucus operations.

Under the format proposed in the bill, which has passed and is now on Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk for his signature, both majority and minority caucuses would be able to set up their own funding apparatuses instead of going through the middleman of the party. At the federal level, both parties have had this structure for decades. In the case of the Democratic and GOP House caucus organizations, they even go back to the 19th Century.

The chamber-specific groups are sometimes called “majority funds” because their main function is to raise campaign money to help candidates that can grant them a majority of seats in a chamber – or retain a majority, if they are already in control. At the national level, being elected chairman of one of the committees is a recognition that a member of Congress is up and coming, but also imposes time-consuming work. Then-Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) was chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee from 2005-2007.

Committee Creation Current Chair
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee 1866 Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D–N.M.)
National Republican Congressional Committee 1866 Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.)
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Unavailable Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)
National Republican Senatorial Committee 1916 Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)

 

JohnBlust

Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford).

But none of that context is comforting to Rep. John Blust, who insisted during the House floor debate that the change was too sudden, and expanded his opposition today, saying the move was a way for powerful legislators grab control from the N.C. GOP.

“This represents the establishment literally thumbing their noses at the grassroots Republican voters,” Blust wrote in a statement issued Friday. “There is an attitude among the elite that the elite always knows best, and the masses can be disregarded.”

But former N.C. GOP vice chairwoman Carolyn Justice said that while she could not comment on the current bill, the change is far from a new idea and would replicate the arrangement at the federal level.

“We’ve talked about this on and off for years,” Justice said. “It’s not brand new.” Justice knows both the party and the House caucus well. She was a Republican state House member, representing Pender and New Hanover counties, before she went to work for the state party.

The worry for Blust and others comes as the state Republican Party is dealing with the election of a new, anti-establishment chairman, Hasan Harnett, and the loss of its executive director and several other staff members. Multiple, well-placed sources have confirmed to Jones&Blount that the party finances are not in good shape and that the selection of a new executive director will be key to reassuring party donors and turning the ship around on Hillsborough Street.

NC GOPThe two finalists for the executive director job, according to sources with knowledge of the search, are Dallas Woodhouse, a well-known political operative in Raleigh, and Johnny Shull, the former mayor of Coats.

Woodhouse has a long history in Republican message-crafting. He started out as a television journalist but found his way into Republican circles when he became state director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative policy group. He is currently founder and president of Carolina Rising, a nonprofit grassroots organization that works to promote conservative economic policy and limited government.   Dallas and his brother, Democratic strategist Brad Woodhouse, were recently the focus of the film “Woodhouse Divided,” which followed the pair for one year, documenting their Thanksgiving table political debates and fierce commitments to their political ideologies.

Shull is a relative unknown in conservative political circles. He has been an instructor of economics at Wake Technical Community College and Central Carolina Community College. He is currently director of alumni for Students for Liberty, a libertarian student organizing group.

Insiders say it is likely one of these two candidates will replace former executive director Todd Poole, who left to become Congressman Richard Hudson’s chief of staff. The Central Committee of the N.C. GOP will reportedly meet this weekend to discuss the executive director position. It is not known when they will make a hire.