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Leaked Attack Memo Could Jeopardize Group's Finances

RALEIGH A group that sent out a memo with tips on how to attack Gov. Pat McCrory and other Republican leaders exercised “bad judgment” that could jeopardize its funding, the director of a foundation that finances the group said Friday.

Leslie Winner, executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, said she was “surprised and disappointed” by the actions of Blueprint North Carolina.

“(Z. Smith Reynolds) believes in robust debate on issues of public importance, (it) does not support attacking people,” Winner said. “We were disappointed to learn that Blueprint is advocating this strategy…

“We are taking this seriously. We are determining our options and our obligations. We will get to the bottom of it.”

The Foundation is providing $400,000 of Blueprint’s nearly $1 million budget, Winner said.

The memo was forwarded by Stephanie Bass, then Bluprint’s communications director, to the group’s nonprofit allies. The Observer obtained a copy.

Describing the control Republicans hold on North Carolina state government, it gave progressives a list of recommendations. Among them:

• “Crippling their leaders (McCrory, Tillis, Berger etc.).”

• “Eviscerate the leadership and weaken their ability to govern.”

• “Pressure McCrory at every public event.”

• “Slam him when he contradicts his promises.”

• “Private investigators and investigative reporting, especially in the executive branch…”

Those were among the talking points and action steps in a memo forwarded by Blueprint North Carolina, a partnership of advocacy and policy groups based in Raleigh.

The memo was emailed to groups last week with a warning: “It is CONFIDENTIAL to Blueprint, so please be careful – share with your boards and appropriate staff but not the whole world.”

Bass referred questions to the group’s executive director, Sean Kosofsky.

“If you want to impact the effectiveness of a lawmaker … one way to do that is to find out where they’re weak and use that to your advantage,” he said.

Among other things, the talking points memo said that “McCrory is extremely thin-skinned.” It also mentioned House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger of Eden.

It recommends a “staff of video trackers that follow targets’ every move (McCrory/Tillis) and also capture as much video of committee hearings as possible looking for opportunities to feed our overarching narrative (McCrory and the Legislature are out of control…)”

The memo included slides of progressives’ arguments. There’s some suggestion that they may have already had an effect.

When House Minority Leader Larry Hall of Durham gave his response to McCrory’s State of the State address last week, he talked about how McCrory’s plan for charter schools “lacks accountability and would allow out-of-state corporations to create online, for-profit virtual charter schools.”

Those remarks, and ones about charters that followed, were identical to language in the memo forwarded by Blueprint.

Hall said Thursday he’s not sure where his language came from, that he researches a variety of sources. He said the memo may have taken the language from earlier speeches he gave on the subject.

Blueprint is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. According to its website, it is “strictly prohibited from participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.”

“All Blueprint activities will be strictly non-partisan,” it says. “Blueprint activities will not be coordinated with any candidate, political party or other partisan entity.”

Kosofsky said the talking points don’t cross the line.

He said the group, which acts as a “back office” to other nonprofits, isn’t trying to influence an election. “Office holders, not office seekers,” he said, “are fair game.

IRS spokesman Mark Hanson declined to comment on the specific case.

Winner, of the Reynolds Foundation, said she’d talk to her attorney.

“I don’t know whether it was improper under their tax-exempt status,” she said, “I just know it was bad judgment.”

The Charlotte Observer