Running for the Republican nomination for Senate while serving as Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives certainly gives Thom Tillis a lot of exposure.

But scrutiny of the speaker’s fundraising shows there’s at least one place where the overlap could prove detrimental. Tillis has already taken heat for appointing big donors to the UNC Board of Governors and for missing a slew of key votes to attend two D.C. events. The Washington Post doesn’t think much of his fundraising prowess, but outside the beltway there is a lot of concern. It’s already led to calls for Tillis to step down as speaker.

Charlotte Observer — Tillis tries, but can’t serve two masters

News & Observer — For Tillis and his donors, an interest in bills

A further study of his quarterly report to the Federal Elections Commission, released July 18 during the frantic end of the legislative session, raises a number of questions about the practice of fundraising for federal office during a session. He’s not the first to do it, but Tillis is the first speaker in modern times to make the leap. He may not have impressed the inside-the-beltway crowd, but the take was considerable considering the short time he had to work with. In the month of June, Tillis raised $277,922 mostly through contributions from individuals. Many of those contributing had direct business interests in the outcome of pending legislation.

A Little History

Tillis declared his intention to run on May 26 and filed his paperwork May 30, well into the session, which started in earnest in late January. According to the report, he raised most of his first quarter money during the final two weeks of June starting right after the House passed its version of the state budget. While much has been made of the Tillis fundraisers in D.C. on July 17, contributors to his campaign in the final days of the second quarter reporting cycle include longtime GOP donors, lobbyists, business executives, three House members and a member of Gov. Pat McCrory’s cabinet.

For obvious reasons, state ethics laws restrict lawmakers from raising money for re-election during legislative sessions. But state office holders running for federal office are permitted to raise funds for their federal campaigns, which are governed by federal election laws.

The most recent example of contributions during a session was during the 2012 election cycle when state Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston, sought the GOP nomination for the Seventh U.S. Congressional District.

Rouzer, who won a hard-fought primary and then lost to Democratic incumbent Rep. Mike McIntyre, was co-chair of several key committees including the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. He also led legislature’s Regulatory Reform effort, which was aimed a dialing back environmental regulations.

In September 2011 a major Rouzer fundraiser, which was attended by members of the Senate leadership, raised eyebrows because it was hosted by a high profile lobbyist. State ethics law prevents contributions from lobbyists, but like raising funds during a session that law does not apply to federal races.

Rouzer’s federal reports were a who’s who of lobbyists and Big Ag executives in North Carolina.

Tillis’ July 2013 quarterly report is not quite as telling, but it only represents roughly one month of fundraising. Contributions collected during the last month of the session, including the D.C. fundraisers, have yet to be reported. (We’ll cover the results for Grown NC Strong, the PAC set up to assist Tillis, in an upcoming post.)

Critiques of the speaker’s fundraising during the session have been met with a defense that when Sen. Kay Hagan ran she did the same thing. Not exactly.

Hagan, who served as one of the state Senate appropriation co-chairs, did not declare her intent to run until October, well after the 2007 session ended. Most of her early fundraising took place between then — she opened her federal committee on October 30, 2007 — and the start of the 2008 short session, which began after the May 2008 primary. Unlike Tillis, during the heavy lifting on the biennial budget (which takes place in odd-numbered years), Hagan was not running for U.S. Senate.

Note: The FEC website is down right now. Once it’s back up the Campaign Finance Portal can be found at: http://www.fec.gov/

Here’s link set up by the FEC for searches until the site is fixed.

Some Familiar Names

One name that jumps out among the contributors to the speaker’s senate campaign is Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources John Skvarla, who contributed $500 to the Tillis campaign on June 14. The former CEO of an environmental mitigation and restoration company, Skvarla’s given to candidates in the past, including his current boss. His contribution came in the day after the final vote on the House version of the budget, which included $154 million in spending for DENR.

House members who gave to Tillis include House Rules Committee chair Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, whose Friends of Tim Moore committee gave $1,000 on June 28; House Environment Committee chair and Appropriations co-chair Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, who gave $500 on June 27; and Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, who gave $250 the same day. Former Democratic state Rep. Ronnie Sutton gave $500 on June 19.

Others on the list of contributors includes an array of medical and legal professionals along with principals in development, property management companies, restaurant chains and the beverage industry, with an especially robust turnout by the executives of Charlotte-based Coca-Cola Consolidated.

One particularly large set of contributions came from Concord-based telecom company ACN. The company’s principals and their wives contributed a combined $20,800 on June 27.

Other contributors of interest from the report include:

• Bob Barbour, Bob Barbour Honda, $2,600
• Robert King, Bob King Buik-GMC, $2,000
• Randy Marion, Randy Marion Automotive, $5,200
• Felix Sabates, $5,200

• Gail Blanton, Time Investment, $2,600
• J. Elmer Britt, Future Financial, $500
• Royce Everette, Time Investment, $2,600
• Glenn Hall, National Finance, $1,000
• Philip Mahoney, American Security Mortgage, $2,600
• Ronald Smith, Century Finances, $500

Government Relations/ Lobbying
• Bryant Kinney, Kinney Public Strategies, $2,600
• David Powers, RAI, $2,600 (Shreita Powers also gave $2,600)
• John C. Fennebresque, McGuire Woods, $2600