In 2014, the battle for North Carolina’s Senate seat was the most expensive race in the country, thanks to more than $82 million spent by outside groups. One of the top groups contributing to that total was Carolina Rising, a nonprofit organization that spent millions to run nearly 4,000 TV ads extolling the eventual victor, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), in the run up to Election Day.
As a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization, Carolina Rising is not required to disclose its donors, leaving the public in the dark about who funded all those ads. The Washington Post reported in July 2014 that one of Carolina Rising’s contributors was Art Pope, the multimillionaire discount store mogul who is part of the Koch donor network. Dallas Woodhouse, the president of Carolina Rising, refused to confirm for the Center for Public Integrity whether Pope was a supporter.
He did, however, insist that Carolina Rising was supported by a “large, diverse donor body”:
Woodhouse did say Carolina Rising is funded by multiple donors.
“And I’ll go as far as to say anybody who makes assumptions based on my previous associations are wrong,” he said. “Broadly speaking, we have a large, diverse donor body that we have brought into this mission of helping the Republicans tell their story in North Carolina. They are not the same old usual suspects.”
The group’s 2014 tax return tells a different story. The form, known as a 990, reveals that Carolina Rising received just two contributions in 2014, including one for $4.82 million. That single donation accounts for 98.7% of Carolina Rising’s revenue in 2014. In fact, since the organization spent just under $4.8 million in 2014, that single donation covered the entire cost of Carolina Rising’s operations, which consisted almost entirely of TV and cable ads.
More like a small and uniform donor body.
The size of Carolina Rising’s donor base isn’t the only area in which Woodhouse publicly misrepresented his organization’s operations. Woodhouse denied to the Center for Public Integrity that his ads were related to Sen. Tillis’ election. “You’re the one who said we participated in the election,” Woodhouse told the news organization. “Those are issue ads. Those are not political ads.”
Woodhouse sang a different tune at Sen. Tillis’ victory party last November. Speaking to a local North Carolina news reporter, Woodhouse agreed that he had spent “a whole lot of money” to get Sen. Tillis elected. “$4.7 million,” said Woodhouse. “We did it.”
$4.7 million is the overall amount Carolina Rising spent on advertising in 2014, which includes $3.2 million that was reported to the Federal Election Commission as “electioneering communications.” As CREW noted in a complaint filed with the Internal Revenue Service today, Carolina Rising claimed on its 2014 tax return that it did not engage in any political campaign activities in 2014. Carolina Rising is clearly a political group posing as a social welfare organization.