by Jordan Green

Items from across the Triad and beyond by Jordan Green

Republican NC House candidate links fundraising for party to committee assignments

Debra Conrad, a candidate for NC House, was telling a small group at a Tuesday luncheon hosted by the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce about the committees she would like to serve on.

“Unfortunately, the more money you raise and give to the speaker, the better committee assignment you get,” Conrad said. “I don’t like that situation.”

Currently serving as a Republican county commissioner, Conrad is favored to win the race to replace Rep. Dale Folwell in NC House District 74. Both the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans, who are looking to expand their majority in this year’s election. The top leader in the House is Speaker Thom Tillis.

Conrad’s remark prompted a titter of discomfort at the table. One person suggested: “Off the record?” Another person seated at the table uttered the phrase “pay to play” — a common characterization of how business was once transacted in the NC House under the leadership of now disgraced Democratic Speaker Jim Black.

“No, I really don’t like that process,” Conrad said. She laughed and added, “So give lots of money.”

Afterwards, Conrad explained, “The party wants the money funneled to a central source, which is the speaker as head of the caucus, to help the other candidates who are having a hard time.”

The candidate said Tillis has never told her directly that the amount of money she raises for other Republican candidates will determine whether she gets the committee assignments she wants, but she often receives e-mails from other candidates asking for money.

“I’m feeling the pressure that it could be an association,” Conrad said.

She added, “I hope that I don’t disappoint him. It’s more of a team mentality. If you don’t make the goals, you don’t get to play as much. It’s no criticism of the speaker; I just think that’s the way it is.”

Conrad said she doesn’t agree that a linkage between the amount of money raised for other candidates and committee assignments is indicative of a “pay to play” culture in Raleigh.

Jordan Shaw, communications director for Tillis, said it’s normal for candidates to try to raise money, whether for themselves or others in the party. “There’s no correlation,” Shaw said. “There’s none of that type of operation.

“Committee assignments are done based on things like seniority and leadership experience with the issues they’re dealing with,” he added. “It has nothing to do with campaign finance or any money you raise.”

Conrad said she probably wouldn’t have raised the matter except that she and fellow NC House candidate Donny Lambeth had just been commiserating over the pressure they were feeling from their party.

“He doesn’t even have an opponent, and he’s having a fundraiser,” Conrad said. “That’s why they’re putting pressure on him — because he doesn’t have an opponent, and he can just turn the money over to the general pool.”