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270 Families Supply $2.4 Million For Easley & Vinroot – 1/3 Their Totals

As the race for governor enters its final weeks, a new analysis shows Republican Richard Vinroot and Democrat Mike Easley are still getting the bulk of their money the old fashioned way: from an intimate circle of very wealthy friends, business associates, and donors with a keen interest in government contracts or government regulation of their industries.

Researchers at Democracy South, the Chapel Hill campaign-finance watchdog, found that half of the $7.7 million raised by Easley and Vinroot through June 30, 2000, has come from 930 individuals who each gave $2,500 or more.

Many of these big donors are related to one another, the study says. In fact, a mere 270 families, giving an average of $9,000 each, have supplied one third of all the money Vinroot and Easley raised from individual donors through June 30.

Most of Richard Vinroot’s money has come from Charlotte-area business executives tied to finance, real estate, and corporate law. Democrat Mike Easley has pulled his money from a somewhat broader geographic and industrial mix, with heavy concentrations from lawyers, builders and real estate developers, health care professionals, and manufacturers.

For example, Easley contributors include Greenville attorney Tom Taft and his family ($26,000); the family of road builders R.E. Barnhill in Tarboro ($8,000), and Kinston’s Hill family ($24,000), owners of the Britthaven nursing home chain. Vinroot supporters include the Wayland Cato family in Charlotte ($30,000), which owns the Cato clothing chain, Bank of America officer James Hance ($12,000), and the Cornwell-Spangler families of Spangler Construction Co. ($20,000) in Charlotte.

Many of these same donors bankrolled the two men’s opponents in the primary. According to Democracy South’s analysis, Vinroot and Easley have raised nearly $2 million from donors who also gave money to another candidate.


In recent weeks, the two men have each been raking in more than $30,000 a day, with four-fifths of the money coming from donors giving at least $1,000 apiece.

The small donor, already a minor factor in high-stakes gubernatorial politics, is nearly extinct. Barely 2 percent of the money raised by the candidates has come from donors giving $100 or less, the study shows. By comparison, Democrat Jim Hunt and Republican Robin Hayes got about 5 percent of their combined $17.7 million from such small donors in their 1996 contest.
Hungry for cash to finance the TV-intensive style of campaigning that won them their parties’ nominations, Vinroot and Easley have kept their focus on high-end donors. By the May primary, they had convinced hundreds of individuals to give $4,000 – the legal limit per election – and, with a new $4,000 limit for the general election, they are added hundreds more.

Of the $4.4 million Easley raised from individuals by July, almost half – $2.1 million – has come from 465 donors giving $4,000 or more. By contrast, the study found that one third of the $3.1 million Vinroot received from individuals has come from 223 big donors, illustrating his weaker position in the fundraising arms race.

In an unprecedented move in North Carolina gubernatorial elections, Vinroot has received at least $1,100,000 from a mainline transfusion of national soft-money donations since he filed his mid-year disclosure report. Republican Party reports at the State Board of Elections show the soft money comes from donors across the nation whose checks of up to $250,000 are being routed by national GOP officials into an account earmarked for North Carolina candidates and state party committees.

The focus on high-dollar fundraising has even begun to worry the big donors themselves. “People are very disgusted and very disappointed because they remember when the candidates came to their fish fry,” Judy Harrison Barry, a major Charlotte donor, told the Charlotte Observer in September. “Now voters think they don’t have a voice because they don’t have the money to access the system.”

Ms. Barry, who has given about $40,000 to Mike Easley, Leo Daughtry, Beverly Perdue, and other candidates this election cycle, says it’s time for a public financing program that rewards candidates who mount a grassroots campaign. “We clearly need an alternative,” she said.

“We’re moving in the wrong direction at a faster speed,” said Thomas Coulson of Marshall, a retired hospital executive and president of N.C. Voters for Clean Elections, a coalition promoting voluntary public funding for qualified candidates. “Elections are more removed from local voters, more controlled by big donors, and more unthinkable for candidates without access to wealth.”

Other findings from the Democracy South analysis show:

路 More than half (58%) of the contributions Vinroot, the former Charlotte mayor, has received from identified individuals comes from Charlotte and its neighboring counties.

路 While Vinroot has out-fundraised Easley in Charlotte, the western Piedmont and mountain counties, Easley has dominated in the Triangle, Triad, and eastern counties.

路 Excluding New Hanover county, Easley has pulled in more than 90% of the money raised from the counties east of I-95. In the northeastern counties, Easley has raised $237,200 compared to Vinroot’s $3,000. In the Rocky Mount to Greenville corridor, the ratio is $694,100 to $45,700.

路 The largest source of campaign money from N.C. sources comes from what Democracy South calls “the sprawl lobby” – the businesses directly involved expanding real-estate development across the state. This sector, which ranges from road builders to architects, gave $1.2 million.

路 The top three sources offering support for Vinroot are the finance industry ($514,000), developers and contractors ($464,000), and attorneys ($303,000). The top three for Easley are attorneys ($805,400), developers and contractors ($714,700) and the health-care sector ($406,600).