- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina Republicans outraised and outspent Democratic counterparts in the political money chase as the GOP retained control of the General Assembly last November, according to state campaign reports filed this month.

But the Republican Party’s fundraising advantage was narrowed by at least an additional $2.8 million in spending last fall from two independent groups targeting Republican state lawmakers, other campaign filings show. Three GOP lawmakers identified in the groups’ mailers and ads were defeated.

Otherwise, the state GOP reported to the State Board of Elections before last week’s filing deadline it spent nearly $9.4 million in the two years ending Dec. 31, compared to almost $5 million spent by the state Democratic Party. There was a similar fundraising gap.

State Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller said party candidates could have benefited more if some money spent by North Carolina Families First and N.C. Citizens for Protecting Our Schools had been given to the party for voter turnout and other efforts. They received much of their donations this fall from national liberal-leaning advocacy organizations such as American Votes, as well as the National Education Association.

Had some of that money been pushed in the party’s direction, Voller said Tuesday, “we would have probably been in a better position to pick up more wins.” Michael Weisel, general counsel and treasurer for Families First and N.C. Citizens, declined to respond to Voller’s comment.

The GOP’s campaign filing said it had $151,000 at the end of the year for state operations, compared to less than $43,000 by Democrats.

Voller said the Democratic Party - the minority party in state government for another two years - is in a financially challenging situation but downplayed the troubles.

“It’s what you expect after a very competitive campaign when we’re not in power,” Voller said. Voller isn’t a candidate for a second term as chairman next month.

The Democrats’ report showed less than $6,000 of its cash was readily accessible, with the rest earmarked for legislative campaign operations. But Voller said the party actually had $53,000 at its disposal when other accounts are considered. The party also had $130,000 in debts at the end of the year, most related to legal expenses. The debts are being paid down.

Both parties operated this year after the legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory approved a 2013 law ending the option for tax return filers to earmark $3 of their tax payments to their favored political party. The Democratic Party received more than $1.5 million in checkoff distributions from the state during 2012, compared to just under $1 million for Republicans.

State Republican Party Executive Director Todd Poole said his party had to cut expenses and work smarter and harder to handle the checkoff loss. He said the state GOP also benefited from last year’s North Carolina U.S. Senate race.

“The NCGOP is in the best financial shape it has been in after an election cycle,” Poole wrote by email.

Total party giving traditionally has been boosted by donations from legislative leaders to help General Assembly candidates.

For example, the campaign of Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, reported last week raising $2.1 million in the last two years, of which $1.3 million was forwarded to the state GOP for its Senate caucus. The campaign of House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham, gave $117,000 to the state Democratic Party’s House caucus.

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