Thompson’s stealth fundraising stands out in finance reports

by Eric Ginsburg

 There are lots of ways to spend more than $1,000 running for city council: Yvonne Johnson paid more than that for catering at her kick-off event, Wayne Abraham on yard signs, Chris Lawyer on bumper stickers and magnets, and Nancy Hoffmann on cards and invitations. Cyndy Hayworth spent at least $1,000 each on Rhinoceros Times ads, billboards, invitations and yard signs.

A number of less well known candidates signed waivers saying they did not intend to spend or receive more than $1,000 throughout this council campaign. Some, like Sal Leone and C. Bradley Hunt II, changed their status once campaigning began, while others remain under the threshold.

The only incumbent to sign the waiver was Danny Thompson, who has since raised nearly $12,000 and is being investigated by the NC Board of Elections for possible campaign finance violations.

Thompson drew criticism after airing advertisements on WFMY News 2 that cost more than $2,000 and changing his threshold waiver on Sept. 7 even though he signed a contract with the station on Sept. 2. The law says candidates must immediately notify the board of elections as soon as intent changes, and had Thompson done so on Sept. 6 or sooner, he would have been required to file a campaign finance report.

Thompson did not return multiple phone calls for this article.

Mayor pro tem Nancy Vaughan, a competitor in the at-large race, knows incumbents don’t have to work as hard in campaign season thanks to name recognition and resources like leftover yard signs, and said she didn’t have a fundraiser until September.

“I’ve just been taking a more casual approach to this election,” Vaughan said, “[but] to run an at-large campaign, you’re certainly going to have to spend more than the threshold amount.”

The day after nullifying the threshold waiver, Thompson loaned his campaign $5,000 and also raised almost $7,000 from other donors in a month, none of which was reported until Oct. 3. The information is a matter of public record and will be posted on the board of elections’ website, but is unlikely to appear online before the primary election. Thompson was then serving as his own treasurer.

Thompson spent more than $3,000 on ads with WFMY last election, and went to WMFY for ad information on Aug. 11, the same day he declared his candidacy and signed the threshold waiver. Thompson’s actions raise questions about whether he intended to stay under the threshold, or if he sought to file information as late as possible to keep his competition and the public in the dark.

It isn’t the first time Thompson has come under fire for dishonesty recently, with competitor Marikay Abuzuaiter arguing he deceived voters by saying he was against reopening the landfill and later becoming one of the plan’s strongest proponents.

“I’m not sure how he can really justify doing that when the same thing sort of happened last time,” Abuzuaiter said. “You’ve got to make sure your campaign reports are correct.”

Councilman Zack Matheny said Thompson’s ads painted him as a superhero even when he didn’t speak up on issues in meetings.

“If he’s taking credit, how about taking some of the heat with me too?” Matheny said, referring to the criticism he received for leading the push for the downtown curfew.

Sheryll Harris is handling the investigation for the NC Board of Elections, and said she is still collecting information and couldn’t comment on possible repercussions if election laws were broken. The board received a formal complaint from Greensboro resident Julie Lapham, who ran in the same race as Thompson in 2009.

Thompson’s campaign finances were anything but smooth last election, and he took months longer than other candidates to get his paperwork in order.

“To go into February was unique,” said deputy director of the county board of elections Charlie Collicutt. “He [had] amended amended reports.”

District 4 candidate Nancy Hoffmann has had trouble with her paperwork as well. Hoffman reported two donations of $5,000, one from her sister in South Carolina and the other from longtime friend Frances Atherton in Washington state. The legal limit for donations in a single election cycle is $4,000 unless the donor is the candidate or the candidate’s parents, spouse or siblings.

Hoffmann said she thought it was okay because Atherton donated twice and each individual donation was under the limit.

“I know that we had some discussion about that,” she said. “We won’t have irregularities.”

Kim Strach, deputy director for the state board of elections, confirmed contributions like Atherton’s, even if split up, violate election law, and the excess would need to be forfeited.

DH Griffin Sr. and David Griffin Jr., owners of DH Griffin and DH Griffin Demolition, donated to a number of candidates’ campaigns while council was deciding whether or not to award Gate City Waste Services the contract to operate the White Street landfill. DH Griffin Jr. and Sr. were among the majority owners of Gate City Waste Services, who council members Thompson, Knight, Rakestraw and Wade initially pre-selected for the contract.

On Aug. 24, DH Griffin donated $500 to Mary Rakestraw’s District 4 reelection campaign. In the week leading up to a public hearing on the Gate City Waste Services contract, DH Griffin Sr. donated $2,500 to Thompson’s campaign on Sept. 14 and David Griffin Jr. gave $250 two days later. Griffin also donated thousands of dollars to Trudy Wade’s recent senate campaign, the extra funds of which were transferred to her District 5 reelection bid.

At-large candidate Jean Brown, who initially planned to stay under the $1,000 threshold as well, received a check for $1,000 from DH Griffin on Sept. 24. Brown has only received two other checks for $100 or more and has raised a total of $1,889.

Two business days before a special council meeting discussing the landfill, DH Griffin Sr. donated $2,500 to at-large Councilman Robbie Perkins’ campaign for mayor. Perkins has repeatedly expressed his opposition to opening the landfill both before and after accepting the contribution.

Perkins has received a number of other large contributions, all of them from people who aren’t eligible to vote for him. Peter Booras, a wine and beer wholesaler for Artesian Enterprises who lives in Julian, donated $2,500, as did High Point resident Christopher Dunbar. John Foster Jr., also of High Point, donated $2,000.

Out of Lawyer’s initial 16 contributors, seven live out of town and can’t vote for him, and Johnson raised over $1,000 from out of town-ers.

Rakestraw and Knight reported disbursements to political consultant firm Compulis, which is run by Bill Burckley. Wade paid Burckley $1,000 for consulting as well.

Mayoral candidate Chris Phillips only received $100 in donations as of his Sept. 9 filing report, all of it from his treasurer, Marilyn B. Forster. In the same report, Phillips reported only spending $18 — for a checking account — on his campaign to that point. Forster also donated $100 to Thompson’s campaign.

Incumbent District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small has only received two donations thus far, totaling $1,250. At-large candidate Sal Leone hasn’t accepted any.

In the District 4 race, Hoffmann and Rakestraw both paid two people for campaigning but took quite different approaches. Rakestraw paid Ethan Morrow and Oliver Mueller, both of Liberty, $108 each for campaigning. Hoffmann paid Lauren Jefferies $2,000 and Graham Sheridan $1,700 for campaign management. Both live in Greensboro.

Thompson’s campaign finance timeline Aug. 11 — Thompson filed to run, signed threshold waiver. Visited WFMY Channel 2 News, received disclosure statement and ad rate card. Aug. 26 — First order for television commercials placed. Sept. 2 — Signed and turned in NAB form to WFMY VP of Sales Bill Lancaster. Sept. 6 — Commercials began airing. 35-day finance report due if over threshold. Sept. 7 — Thompson changed waiver with Guilford County Board of Elections, did not file report. Sept. 8 — Thompson loaned his campaign $5,000. Sept. 13 — Theresa Yon becomes campaign treasurer, takes over for Thompson. Sept. 25 — Lapham files formal complaint with NC Board of Elections Oct. 3 — First report turned in, includes television ad info and $11,980 raised.