PACS showered incumbent Coble with donations

by Eric Ginsburg

The fact that longtime US Rep. Howard Coble easily won his reelection bid May 8 despite significant redistricting didn’t surprise many experienced observers. The 6th Congressional District, covering most of Guilford County except for parts of High Point and the southern and eastern parts of Greensboro as well as a handful of other counties, has been comfortable territory for Coble for decades.

Yet the overwhelming majority of Coble’s campaign funds didn’t come from his adoring constituents, though a few wealthy benefactors did make significant donations.

Instead, Coble treasurer and former Greensboro Mayor Bill Knight listed $188,500 in campaign funds from “other political committees (like PACS),” dwarfing the $87,827 in contributions from individuals.

Coble received donations from so many PACS that merely listing them could take up an entire column. Based throughout the country but primarily in the Washington, DC area, the PACS represented a wide swath of different political interests including the sugar industry, transportation, tobacco, communication and military contractors such as Raytheon and Boeing.

Communication and utility companies like Time Warner, Sprint Nextel, Comcast ($4,500) Duke Energy and AT&T contributed significant amounts, but the largest single donation came from Express Scripts PAC — “one of the nation’s leading pharmacy benefit managers,” according to its website — totaling $7,500.

PACs are only allowed to donate $5,000 to a candidate per election, but a Federal Elections Commission spokesperson said PACs can give up to the $10,000 threshold for a primary and general election before the primary as long as the candidate passes the primary and uses the funds appropriately.

Only the ERIC PAC, which stands for Every Republican Is Crucial, topped Express Scripts, with two donations of $5,000 on the same day. ERIC PAC’s aim is to hold onto Republican seats in Congress.

Chemical company BASF contributed $5,000 through its PAC, as did the National Auto Dealers while Syngenta offered slightly less at $4,000.

The Lorillard PAC gave donations of $5,000 and $2,200, and five Lorillard tobacco employees including the CEO and vice president each gave $1,000. A smaller donation also came in from the director of government affairs at Philip Morris.

Three sugar-industry PACs contributed to Coble’s campaign as well, including two based in Minnesota such as the Southern Minn. Beet Sugar Co-op PAC. The three donations added up to $4,000.

Large local donors included a few people from the textile industry, including Thomas Bobo of Burlington who gave $3,000, Allen Gant of Glen-Raven Mills ($2,500) and $1,500 from the National Council of Textile Organizations. Greensboro resident Joseph Bryan Jr. gave $2,000 and RH Barringer executive Mark Craig donated $4,000.

Unlike Coble, challenger and radio personality Bill Flynn heavily funded his own campaign, repeatedly loaning it up to $10,000. Flynn’s total contributions from individuals only hit $15,621, a measly figure in comparison to Coble’s, even without PAC support.

Aside from his own donations, Flynn’s largest donations were for $2,500, with three people including Leslie and Michael Gillespie of Greensboro giving at that amount.

Flynn’s only other notable donation was $500 from Colfax Gun & Ammo. Companies are prohibited from making campaign donations, and Flynn’s campaign didn’t realize its error until asked about the donation. After looking into the issue, campaign manager Robert Watkins said they thought it came from a limited partnership rather than a company, but they realized their error.

“We will get it corrected,”Watkins said. “The money is being returned, and then it will be issued to us through an individual.”

Despite that, Coble still took home more money from gun enthusiasts thanks to $3,000 from the National Rifle Association PAC.

Area individuals donated the majority of money to challenger, current Guilford County commissioner Billy Yow’s campaign. DH Griffin ($2,500), Oak Ridge real estate developer Kevin Combs ($1,500), Butler’s Trailers owner Don Butler ($2,500), High Point farmers Emily and Ryan Hiatt ($2,500 and $2,000 respectively) and Kersey Valley executive Donna Wohlgemuth were among Yow’s top donors.

Two large contributions came from out of state — Sharpe Brother executive Leo Vecellio Jr. in Palm Beach ($1,500) and R. Whitaker of Whitaker Furniture in Belden, Miss. ($500). While a number of Coble’s individual donations came from his district, the majority of his money came from out of state.

Just as telling as who donated to candidates is what they decided to do with it. Yow spent almost $10,500 at Wooten Graphics in Welcome for signs and yard signs, his only disbursements for more than $1,000.

Flynn’s biggest expense was just shy of $10,000, going to Revolution-Agency in DC for mass mailing. Company partner Evan Kozlow’s other business, the Kozlow Group in Leesburg, Va. was paid $2,600 for a “telephone town hall.” The campaign paid Austin, Texasbased Signs on the Cheap for four different orders of yard and advertising signs, totaling $6,106.

Flynn, who gained fame as a radio personality, put significant funds into on-air advertising as well, paying Clear Channel in Greensboro $3,399 for commercials and giving Truth Broadcasting $1,971 for ads. Truth Broadcasting labels itself as “real Christian talk” and is based in Winston-Salem, which Flynn’s campaign mistakenly said was in Oklahoma.

Coble’s campaign had a lot more money to play with, and the incumbent dropped almost $100,000 for advertising with the High Point-based Media Placement Services. The company’s website is no longer active, but its LinkedIn profile describes it as, “a media buying service providing thought leadership, research, planning and buying for clients across a variety of industries. MPS has deep experience in TV, radio, print, outdoor and online on a local, regional, national and international level.”

Coble also hosted an expensive barbecue at American Legion Post No. 8 in DC, paying $1,375 for the facility, $1.868 to Hursey’s Bar-B-Q in Burlington and $3,201 to Morgan, Meredith and Associates in Va. for “BBQ expense.” The firm also receives $5,416 for direct mail letters.

Coble’s expenditures include salaries for two Greensboro residents. Lindsay Morris received a salary of $2,465 for 23 days of work and Anne Rosenthal was paid $13,054 for three months of work.

Coble also spent $12,000 on a billboard ad with the Greensboro Grasshoppers and $3,100 with the Burlington Royals for a billboard ad.

The total contributions correlated with the vote breakdown relatively accurately, with Coble dominating the primary with 26,595 votes and Flynn and Yow receiving 7,515 and 8,929 respectively. Yow raised $30,155 from individuals, and though Flynn secured a little more than half of that, his personal contributions put him over Yow’s fundraising total.

Meanwhile, Coble’s campaign had a combined $276,327 in donations from individuals and other political committees.