Mystery group backs outsider Democrat challenging Tillis in North Carolina

Mystery group backs outsider Democrat challenging Tillis in North Carolina
© Greg Nash
A mysterious outside group that sprang into existence only last week will spend more than $1 million in television advertisements backing North Carolina state Sen. Erica Smith (D), one of the candidates running to challenge Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Speculation over Biden's running mate announcement Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Lincoln Project expands GOP target list, winning Trump ire MORE (R) in November.
 
The group has made heavy buys in the Charlotte, Greenville, Raleigh and Greensboro markets, according to multiple sources familiar with the North Carolina ad market, with advertising set to run over the next two weeks.
 
The ad spending is significant because it is the first major investment into Smith’s campaign. Smith, who represents a district on North Carolina’s northern border with Virginia, has raised just over $210,000, according to her most recent report filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
 
“Who’s the Democrat for U.S. Senate endorsed by progressives and unions? Erica Smith. Who’s got the courage to vote for 'Medicare for All?' Erica Smith. The number one supporter of the Green New Deal? Erica Smith again. Erica Smith is one of us,” a narrator says in the ad. “Vote Democrat Erica Smith for U.S. Senate, the only proven progressive.”
 
The spending is also notable because the group behind it, Faith and Power PAC, appears to have ties to Republicans. Filings made with the FEC on Jan. 29, when the group was formed, show it will bank with Chain Bridge Bank, a financial institution founded by former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) that frequently does business with Republican political committees, including President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district MORE’s campaign and the Republican National Committee.
 
Public filings with the Federal Communications Commission show the group’s television spots were purchased by Neylan & Partners, a Republican media buyer that has worked with Americans for Tax Reform, the anti-abortion rights group Susan B. Anthony List and an outside group that backed former HP chief executive Carly Fiorina’s 2016 presidential campaign.
 
A phone call to Neylan & Partners went unreturned Wednesday afternoon. An email sent to an address listed for the Faith and Power PAC was not immediately returned. The PAC’s address is listed at a private mailbox rental business in Jacksonville, N.C. Smith’s campaign also did not respond to a request for comment.
 
National Democrats back former state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D-N.C.) as their strongest candidate against Tillis. Cunningham’s campaign had raised about $3.3 million through the end of the year, according to its FEC filings.
 
But the party may be concerned that Cunningham is not yet well-known enough to guarantee he will be the nominee — especially in a March 3 primary, held the same day as the state’s presidential nominating contests, when African American voters make up a large proportion of the primary electorate.
 
Cunningham’s campaign has already spent a little more than half a million dollars on its own television spots, several ad trackers confirmed. Cunningham’s campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee are spending $174,000 on coordinated television spots that began running on Wednesday. Vote Vets Action Fund, a prominent Democratic group, has spent more than $3.3 million on Cunningham’s behalf.