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A New 'Foundation' For N.C. Politics?

Here's a name you'll probably get used to while Governor Pat McCrory is in office: The Foundation for North Carolina. It's a nonprofit but not in the traditional sense. It's a political group with close ties to McCrory that was created after his election.

The Foundation for North Carolina is a particular kind of nonprofit: a 501(c)(4). To help explain what that means, let's start with another 501(c)(4), Crossroads GPS. You've probably seen its ads, like this onewith dramatic music and a narrator warning, "America is heading toward a cliff- a fiscal cliff."

GOP strategist Karl Rove founded Crossroads. Those kind of nonprofits are technically "social welfare" organizations. That designation allows them to take unlimited donations and keep their donors secret.

They are limited in how much they can advertise for a specific candidate. But they can make all the "issue ads" they want, which usually end with a line like: "Tell the president and Congress act now to stop America from falling off the fiscal cliff before it's too late."

'We Can Do All Kinds Of Advertising'

You can expect to see a lot of issue ads from The Foundation for North Carolina.

"We can do direct mail. We can do TV. We can do radio," said Jack Hawke, the chairman of the foundation's board. "We can do all kinds of advertising on issues, and that's basically what we're looking towards."

Before taking over the board, Hawke was a campaign strategist for McCrory.

"I would say the issues the organization picks and chooses and will be advocating on will be issues that will be of interest to McCrory," Hawke said.

And he said donors who give more than $25,000 to the foundation may get the opportunity to attend policy retreats in say, Pinehurst or Bald Head Island.

"We are talking about certain meetings that will be held during the year that perhaps will have McCrory or speaker of the House or president pro tem of the Senate come in and speak on issues," Hawke said.

He said donors are getting no promises they'll meet with McCrory or anyone else.

'Taking Huge Donations For Access'

But that doesn't make it ethical, said Justin Guillory.

"I think it's very troubling," Guillory said. He's with Progress North Carolina, a liberal advocacy group.

He said the foundation's setup amounts to a pay-to-play system.

"Political fundraising is nothing new, but establishing outside of the campaign finance system a political nonprofit that's taking huge donations for access to the governor is very troubling," Guillory said.

Gov. McCrory: Foundation Won't Get Special Treatment

Governor McCrory laughed off that accusation as nonsense from a group that's out to get him. He said the Foundation for North Carolina won't get any special treatment.

"I know they support many of my policies and my initiatives," McCrory said. "Many of them are friends of mine."

In fact, the foundation's chairman, Jack Hawke, is still a political advisor to McCrory. But McCrory said that makes no difference.

"I am attending one of their events, just like I attended the (Junior) League of Raleigh events for my inauguration and just like I helped raise money for the veterans the other night," he said.

New Beast In State Politics

The Foundation for North Carolina is somewhat of a new beast in state politics though.

Catawba College Political Professor Michael Bitzer said those kind of nonprofits have had a big impact on the national scene the past few years. Now political strategists are using that blueprint on the state level.  

"We're going to start seeing more and more money, not just related to campaigns and elections, but influencing the policy decisions while legislatures are in session," Bitzer said. "I think this is going to become the new normal for how our political environment is going to be working."

Case in point: Republicans in the North Carolina House have created their own nonprofit. They said the idea came in part from The Foundation for North Carolina.