RALEIGH — The latest fundraising numbers released by likely 2020 North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Dan Forest could make fellow Republicans think twice before getting into the race against him.
The lieutenant governor’s campaign committee said this week he had raised more than $3 million during 2017 for the committee and two other political groups, including a “super PAC” that promoted Forest during his successful 2016 re-election bid.
That group, an independent expenditure committee called Truth and Prosperity, received only one donation last year, a $1 million contribution in late December from a private investment firm executive, according to a report filed with the state elections board. Committees had until Friday to turn in reports for the six months ending Dec. 31.
An email to supporters announcing the 2017 figures had Forest taking credit for raising money for all three committees.
“We issued a public statement to be transparent with the general public,” Hal Weatherman, who is both Forest’s chief of staff and his top political aide, said on Friday. “The three entities we solicit for are all required by law to disclose their donors to the general public” with reports to the elections board, Weatherman said.
Forest, a Raleigh architect first elected in 2012, has made no secret of his interest in seeking to unseat Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. He’s built a statewide network of supporters and has been a voice for social conservatives in support for the state’s previous “bathroom bill” and school choice options.
Forest’s campaign committee reported raising $631,500 last year. And the Republican Council of State Committee, a newly formed organization designed to help elect Republican candidates to statewide elected offices, raised $1.4 million, according to Forest’s email. The Council of State committee filing had not been posted on the board’s website Friday.
Larry Shaheen, a Republican political consultant, said Forest’s diverse fundraising represents a level of sophistication found in other states.
“It sends a huge message that his campaign is being run like a well-oiled machine, which is what Republicans will need to take on a sitting governor,” Shaheen said in an interview. “The only question is whether someone is willing to at this point to go through what looks like a very expensive” primary, he added.
Former GOP Gov. Pat McCrory, who narrowly lost to Cooper in the 2016 election, has said he’s keeping his options open to run again. He said recently he’ll decide after this November’s midterm elections.
Still, Cooper’s campaign committee reported raising nearly $1.5 million last year, or more than double what Forest’s campaign committee collected. The Cooper for North Carolina committee had $1.1 million in cash as of Dec. 31 compared to $336,000 in the Forest committee. Separately, Cooper has been raising money to help Democrats win additional legislative seats in 2018 and 2020.
A Cooper campaign spokesman declined comment Friday.
The $1 million donation to Truth and Prosperity came from Greg Lindberg, owner of Durham-based Eli Global, its report said. Truth and Prosperity can receive unlimited amounts of money from individuals or businesses but can’t coordinate spending with Forest.
In a release, the state Democratic Party accused Forest’s campaign of “improperly and potentially illegally” coordinating with Truth and Prosperity through the fundraising.
Josh Lawson, a lawyer at the state elections board, said Supreme Court rulings indicate a North Carolina candidate can raise money for an independent committee because state law is silent on whether that activity is unlawful coordination.