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SHOW ME THE MONEY
Which Council of State member raised the most money in the second half of 2022? It wasn’t one of the two gubernatorial hopefuls, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson or Attorney General Josh Stein.
That distinction goes to Gov. Roy Cooper, who wasn’t on the ballot last year and likely won’t be in 2024. But his campaign organization was a key player in Democrats’ fundraising efforts. It raised $3.9 million between July and December and spent $5 million during that time, according to campaign finance reports filed last week.
His campaign has largely functioned as an outside fundraising effort for the N.C. Democratic Party, which then spent the money on key midterm legislative and judicial campaigns. The Cooper campaign transferred about $4.5 million to the state party in the second half of 2022.
Millions of dollars from that organization went to Cooper’s campaign. Top donors there in 2022 included Raleigh businessman Dean Debnam ($250,000), the United Auto Workers ($125,000), Burlington businessman Sam Hunt ($100,000), Chapel Hill insurance executive Adam Abram ($50,000), author John Grisham ($50,000) and the Catawba Indian Nation ($35,000).
PLACE YOUR BET
After a near miss last year, sports betting legislation could be among the hot topics as the long session cranks up.
Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln and a sponsor of the measure, said that he expects the proposal “will look a lot like the bill from last year.” But one key change could create tensions between two competing factions among sports betting proponents, both of which have drafted teams of influential lobbyists.
WRAL recently reported that the state’s professional sports teams want the legislation to automatically allocate them eight of the 12 available licenses, which would limit the number of licenses available to national gambling operators such as FanDuel and DraftKings.
Lobbyist Ches McDowell has been working on the behind-the-scenes push to legalize sports betting for years. He works for a subsidiary of the law firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, and got his start in politics working for Senate leader Phil Berger.
McDowell and his team, which also includes former House Speaker Tim Moore adviser Nelson Freeman, represent most of the sports organizations seeking to offer betting: the Charlotte Hornets, the NBA, Charlotte FC soccer, Major League Baseball, Churchill Downs and the PGA Tour.
Another group, the Sports Betting Alliance, likely wants to keep the earlier language on gambling license allocations.
The group includes companies like FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM. Its North Carolina lobbyists are former gubernatorial candidate Patrick Ballantine and UNC System Board of Governors member David Powers.
The N.C. prison system’s 40% staff vacancy rate was a key focus at the Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of Adult Corrections Todd Ishee.
Ishee was approved to lead a cabinet position created when last year’s state budget called for prisons, probation and parole to become a separate agency from the Department of Public Safety. He has been the state’s commissioner of prisons since 2019 and previously spent decades working in the corrections system in Ohio.
“Our first goal has got to be around improving our staffing levels,” he said. The state is offering employees recruitment bonuses with a goal of getting the vacancy rate below 20% in the next four years. ■