There’s a big problem with running for state office.
The problem is money — who needs it, who it’s going to come from, and how those two points find one another.
This problem is why, back in January, we launched the Long Leaf Pine Slate. Trust me, I’m going to tell you all about it here in a second. But first, you need to understand the problem I’m talking about. It’s about money and campaign fundraising.
Here’s the thing: whether we like it or not (hint: no one does!), fundraising is the ammunition of politics. Without enough financial resources, even the best candidates will fizzle. On the flip side, though, it also isn’t everything. Contrary to popular opinion, you cannot really “buy elections.” (Just ask Mike Bloomberg!) Money is a “necessary, but not sufficient” factor. Campaign cash definitely has a diminishing marginal utility curve.
But you still need it.
The big problem: Where will the money come from?
Money is a huge problem for both candidates and donors.
For candidates, it’s incredibly difficult to run for office — almost any office, really, but certainly your state legislature. One of the biggest hurdles is raising money. Cold hard cash, baby.
It costs a lot of money to run for office. So where does it come from? There’s no magic treasure chest sitting at your state party office. If you’re lucky, they might kick in a few thousand dollars (as long as you haven’t pissed anyone off), but you need to raise a lot more. In fact, the ability to fundraise is one of the biggest determinants of whether a candidate will be competitive or not. You don’t necessarily need to out-raise the other guy, but you need enough to stage an effective campaign. So there’s basically two sources: your own pocket, or someone else’s.
Parties love self-funded candidates. If you have the resources to dump a million dollars of your own money into your campaign, your state party will love you. (One of our Slate candidates’ Republican opponents is literally doing this.)
But usually, candidates need to raise money. And that’s really hard. Here in North Carolina, we’ve got 170 legislators, PLUS opposite-party challengers, Congressional candidates, a whole list of state office commissioners and many more out there scouring the state for campaign contributions with events, direct mail, social, online, emails, everything. It’s just a ton of noise, and for the most part, it’s every man and woman for themselves. A big, noisy scrum.
New, mostly unknown candidates have to constantly compete with well-entrenched ones for donors and cash.
And that becomes a big problem for our other key group— the donors.
For donors, all this noise is nearly impossible to follow. For most people, following state political news is as dreary as watching Duke football. They just don’t know who all the candidates are, which are the really strategic districts, the most vulnerable seats, where their donation will have the most impact. This is doubly the case for folks out-of-state.
To recap: the right candidates don’t break through the noise, so the right donors never wind up hearing about them.
That’s a big missed opportunity, because a lot of these donors would actually be supportive, if they only knew who the right candidates and most important races were. But they don’t, so they don’t give, and it’s much harder for those candidates to compete.
So guess who fills that gap instead?
A river of corporate cash
You might’ve noticed that there’s one type of donor we haven’t mentioned yet —corporate PACs. It turns out that they have tons of cash, and they are very tuned into state party politics, which can have a major impact on their business, particularly in highly regulated industries. It may come as no surprise that the leading corporate donors to North Carolina politicians are from the energy and health care industries — all of which have a huge presence in our state.
While they give to both parties, most of the corporate PACs give much more heavily to Republicans, who have never met a corporate tax cut they don’t like. As North Carolina Republicans have steadfastly opposed Medicaid expansion, the for-profit healthcare industry has poured money into strengthening their majority. This has led to many North Carolina Republicans to essentially become rubber-stamping yes-men for their corporate donors.
The quid-pro-quo isn’t exactly subtle.
Take Jon Hardister, for example. He’s the Republican Majority Whip in House District 59 (and an opponent of the Slate). Fully half of his fundraising for the 2020 cycle has come from corporate PACs, including 95% of his entire Q1 haul ($38,000 out of $40,000), instead of real human donors.
You tell me — who does Jon Hardister really work for?
Or take Perrin Jones, the appointed Republican running in House District 9. In Q1, he raised 77% of his total from corporate PACs (mostly for-profit medical specialists). Last year, the figure was 50%. And it turns out that Jones also has deep, principled opposition to Medicaid expansion. Funny coincidence, huh?
I could list lots more candidates here — these examples are by no means extraordinary. North Carolina Republicans dramatically out-raise Democrats by relying on corporate cash instead of individual donors. They enjoy the advantage of being the party in the majority (so they can make things happen), and they’re also happy to sell access and favors to corporate interests.
It’s corruption, plain and simple. It’s right there in front of our faces.
For most of this decade, Democrats have been locked out of competing fairly for seats by the Republican majority’s toxic and outrageously racist gerrymander, voter suppression and disenfranchisement strategy. How outrageous? Their maps deliberately cut the nation’s largest HBCU in half. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface.
Just last year, however, state courts finally forced redistricting. Under court order, the Republican majority reluctantly drew new maps just for this fall’s election. And while they still tilt in Republicans’ favor, they’re the most balanced we’ve seen in a decade. For the first time in years, Democrats have a real opportunity to win.
This November, North Carolina Democrats face our very best opportunity in a decade to win back the General Assembly and return sanity to our state.
(Fun fact: the Republican leadership just lies so often and so egregiously that the court required them to perform the redraw in a special, dedicated room whose proceedings were livestreamed on the internet.)
If we fail to win a majority in at least one of the two chambers, the Republicans are going to do exactly what they did in the 2011 redistricting, and draw themselves into another (super)majority for a decade. It would be a disaster. It would not only cost North Carolinians fair representation in the state legislature, but also in Congress. North Carolina currently sends 10 Republicans and only 3 Democrats to Congress, despite a pretty equal number of voters on both sides. That’s what gerrymandering is designed to do, after all.
The stakes are enormous. The opportunity is there. It’s up to us to seize it.
Enter: The Long Leaf Pine Slate
The Long Leaf Pine Slate is a group of 11 Democratic candidates running this fall: 7 for House, 4 for the Senate. They were selected on the basis of the competitiveness of their districts (they can really win) and their strengths as candidates (they’re personally outstanding). We back winners.
In short, the Long Leaf Pine Slate represents Democrats’ path back to a majority and victory this November.
The Slate is not a PAC. Instead, it directs all donors to ActBlue, where contributions are sent directly to our candidates. This allows maximum transparency for our donors and much-needed support for our candidates.
Every single one of our candidates is running a competitive campaign against a well-funded Republican opponent — some, but not all, incumbents. Nearly all of these districts were changed in the redistricting and are now newly competitive for good Democratic challengers. As expected, most of the Republicans are out-raising us with cash from corporate donors or their own pockets:
- Remember Jon Hardister, the Majority Whip who raised 95% of his money from corporate PACs? He’s facing a strong challenge by Slate candidate Nicole Quick, a former manufacturing executive.
- Perrin Jones, the corporate healthcare lackey? He’s opposed by Slate candidate Brian Farkas, who is substantially out-raising him among individual donors.
- Slate candidate Donna Lake is running against that self-funding millionaire from above who made a fortune in healthcare private equity and now runs a private jet business.
Real talk: we’re never going to match the Republicans’ combination of personal wealth and corporate cash. But we don’t need to. As mentioned above, money has diminishing marginal returns. Our candidates need enough money to compete effectively, and every little bit helps.
And that’s what we’re doing. Can you help?
The Long Leaf Pine Slate has already raised tens of thousands of dollars for our candidates. And we’re just getting started.
If you care about a progressive future for North Carolina; about repudiating the never-ending parade of toxicity, self-dealing corruption and just plain meanness from the Republicans who have led our state for the last decade; and about restoring democracy in our state, please consider donating today.
You can see all of our candidates and see in-depth analysis into their districts on our website: LongLeafPineSlate.org
While you’re there, don’t forget to sign up for updates on how we’re doing.
You can also give directly on ActBlue:
This is an all-volunteer effort, and your help in spreading our message is critical. Whether you can support the Slate financially or not, your shares and retweets go a long way to raising our visibility.
Thanks very much for your support. Now let’s go win this thing.