Fact Check: Did Dan McCready Benefit From Dark Money?

Jun 19, 2019

It’s our weekly fact check of North Carolina politics.  This week we turn to September’s 9th District Congressional election.  

In a Facebook post May 31, Republican Dan Bishop accused his Democratic opponent Dan McCready of getting almost $1 million in support from a Nancy Pelosi aligned dark money organization during last year’s election.  McCready has criticized the use of dark money, saying it has no place in American politics. 

To see if Bishop’s accusation is true or false "Morning Edition" host Marshall Tery turns to Elizabeth Thompson of the Raleigh News and Observer.

Terry:What is dark money exactly?

Thompson: Dark money is defined as political spending meant to influence the decision of a voter where the donor is not disclosed and the source of the money is unknown. A lot of times these organizations are either political nonprofits or super PACs. So the political nonprofits are organizations that are not required to disclose their donors. So examples of this are Planned Parenthood and the National Rifle Association, the NRA. This is all from the Center for Responsive Politics which is a watchdog organization in DC.

Terry:How much of an impact does this dark money have in our elections?

Thompson: Interestingly enough, I actually talked to an expert about that and they said in most elections these organizations rarely show up. They only are important when you get to very close races. So for example, the race in the 9th Congressional District that was a very close race. It's an attractive race to dark money organizations because that's where they can have the most impact and the most bite.

Terry: And you're referring to last year's race there, the one between Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Mark Harris.

Thompson: Correct. The 2018 midterms.

Terry: So is Dan Bishop correct then? Did Dan McCready receive support from a dark money organization?

Thompson: He did. So Patriot Majority USA is a liberal leaning dark money nonprofit. They spent roughly $900,000 against Mark Harris who was McCready's opponent. So what these organizations do since they're not legally allowed to give money directly to the candidates they set up anti-campaigns in a way. Instead of spending money directly on McCready, they're spending money against Harris. So they ran TV ads attacking his campaign, Harris's campaign, but don't mention anything about McCready. And they say that they're not sponsored by McCready.

Terry: And the second part of that is, is that organization aligned with Nancy Pelosi as Dan Bishop has claimed?

Thompson: Patriot Majority USA does not have any direct affiliation with Nancy Pelosi. Of course, it's a Democratically aligned organization that favors trying to get Democrats into the House. But Nancy Pelosi has really no past with them that we could find that's very explicitly Pelosi aligned. However, McCready did receive money from the House Majority PAC which does disclose its donors so it's not a dark money organization but it is known to be aligned with Nancy Pelosi and they spent $340,000 against Harris benefiting McCready.

Terry: What has been McCready's response to Bishop's claim?

Thompson: So, we talked to McCready's campaign and he said that he believes money is corrupting our politics and that we've got to take on special interests and the status quo. And he said that if he's elected to Congress he will advocate for mandatory disclosure of all different donors to dark money groups. His campaign has been supported by End Citizen United, which is a group that's dedicated to reversing the Supreme Court decision that allowed dark money groups to grow in influence, which is called Citizens United vs. FEC.

Terry: So, McCready didn't really deny, necessarily, that he has benefited from dark money?

Thompson: No, he didn't.  Although when we did talk to his campaign people they said that federal election law prohibits candidates from coordinating with political nonprofits and they follow the law. The fact of the matter is that there's nothing that they can really do to prevent dark money groups from investing in them basically. They can really do whatever they want unless they wanted to call out these organizations directly and say, '@PatriotMajorityUSA stop sending us money to an anti-campaign against my opponent.'

Terry: So how do you rate the claim by Dan Bishop then.

Thompson: The claim is mostly true. Bishop was correct that McCready received support from a dark money group and he also did receive support from the House Majority PAC which is aligned with Pelosi. It's just not a dark money group. So his statement was mostly true.

Terry: Moving forward, how do we tell if either Bishop or McCready are benefiting from dark money?

Thompson: The Center for Responsive Politics does collect information on this. It's kind of up to us as voters and citizens to be watchful of that. In this election, I would say that it's very likely that both candidates will experience some kind of benefit from dark money organizations just because they are so invested in competitive elections and this is going to be an extremely competitive election.

Terry: That's Elizabeth Thompson of The Raleigh News and Observer. 

This story was produced by the North Carolina Fact-Checking Project, a partnership of McClatchy Carolinas, the Duke University Reporters' Lab and PolitiFact. The NC Local News Lab Fund and the International Center for Journalists provide support for the project, which shares fact-checks with newsrooms statewide. To offer ideas for fact checks, email factcheck@newsobserver.com.

Listen to WFAE's Fact Check segment on Wednesday mornings during Morning Edition and anytime here.

Correction: One instance of McCready was mistakenly written as McCrory.