The dark money network backing a conservative North Carolina Supreme Court candidate

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Trey Allen, a candidate for the North Carolina Supreme Court, has benefited from a PAC with ties to the Republican state Senate leader.

This is part two of a three-part series about North Carolina's state Supreme Court elections. Read part one here.

The elections for two state Supreme Court seats in North Carolina are of vital importance in 2022. In recent years, the court's 4-3 Democratic majority has served as a bulwark against Republican efforts to gerrymander congressional districts and pass restrictive voter ID laws. If Republicans win either of the two seats in November, they will gain the majority and be able to realize their plans for the state.

Campaign cash has poured in to support the state Supreme Court candidates, with most contributions coming from individual donors. But an investigation by the American Independent Foundation uncovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in dark money contributed to the campaign of Trey Allen, the Republican candidate seeking to unseat incumbent Democratic Justice Sam Ervin IV.

Allen so far has raised $540,000 from individual contributors. But an analysis of campaign finance documents has revealed that a little-known PAC called True Conservative Judges, registered at a post office box in Raleigh, has spent more than $300,000 directly in support of Allen's campaign. That money went toward a conservative political consulting firm called The Differentiators for "direct mail," according to the latest political committee disclosure form that True Conservative Judges filed with the North Carolina State Board of Elections in July.

The Differentiators was founded in 2019 by two North Carolina Republican political operatives named Ray Martin and Jim Blaine. Both men used to work for Republican Sen. Philip Berger, the president pro tempore of the state Senate. Berger hired Martin, a former newspaper reporter for the News & Observer in Raleigh, as the state Senate's press secretary, while Blaine served as Berger's chief of staff from 2011 to 2018.

A form filed by True Conservative Judges with the Board of Elections in May lists a $590,000 contribution from an organization called the Good Government Coalition, with a listed address of a UPS store in Springfield, Virginia. The Good Government Coalition is tax-exempt and describes itself as a "national organization dedicated to electing the next generation of Republican leaders to state governments across America," but lists no information on its website about its leadership, its personnel, or the source of its funding. The latest news post on its website is from September 2020.

Stephanie Rudig/The American Independent Foundation

This is not the first time that the Good Government Coalition has funneled money to Republican candidates in North Carolina. In the 2020 election cycle, the group gave at least $2.25 million for state political campaigns, mostly through a group called Citizens for a Better North Carolina, according to reporting by Raleigh station WRAL. Some of that funding went to Martin & Blaine Consulting — the same duo behind the Differentiators.

This playbook is familiar to John R. Wallace, a North Carolina lawyer who has represented political party committees, state and federal PACs, and candidate committees.

"I know that there are organizations that will swoop in with more than enough money and they will fully fund the messaging of the Republican candidates in any place they deem appropriate," Wallace told the American Independent Foundation. "The candidates will never have to raise money to go on TV or radio or whatnot."

Allen's campaign hasn't raised all that much money, especially compared to his opponent's campaign. Allen has raised just over $540,000 from individual contributors, while Ervin has raised $899,000 from individual contributors, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

But according to Wallace, Allen may not have to worry about raising money for his own campaign. He has friends in high places, after all.

"They're not worried about raising money," Wallace said. "They know that they will be covered by independent expenditure money. The Democrats, on the other hand, don't have any assurance from any outside sources. And they have to raise money to pay for their own campaigns."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.