#DrunkTown ad creator files complaint against Keep Raleigh Vibrant, consulting firm | News

#DrunkTown ad creator files complaint against Keep Raleigh Vibrant, consulting firm

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Updated: here is a copy of the complaint Dean Debnam filed this morning with the Wake County Board of Elections and the State Board of Elections.   See related PDF Coordination_Complaint.pdf
Michael Weisel, the attorney for the PAC Wake Citizens for Good Government which Debnam chairs, sent the following points about campaign finance laws in regard to this complaint:

· Whether Medford and Keep Raleigh Vibrant hired Targeted Persuasion is irrelevant to the Complaint. No money has to change hands between the two for illegal coordination. Were there any conversations about any aspect of any campaign matters between the two? There are online postings contained in the Complaint indicating there were conversations. That could well be coordination and is illegal under NC law.

· If Medford and Keep Raleigh Vibrant spent over $100 in any aspect of the Raleigh City Council campaigns, then a campaign finance report must be filed. To date, no such report has been filed with either the Wake County Board of Elections or the State BOE. Not filing is illegal, as is misreporting or underreporting expenditures.

· From online posting (contained in the Complaint) there were fundraisers and meet & greets for Ms. Ashton Mae Smith with “free food and drinks.” Those are “in-kind” contributions and must be reported on the candidate’s finance reports. To date, no such in-kind contributions have been listed on filed reports with the Wake County Board of Elections. That is illegal. Additionally, if the corporation (bar/restaurant) “paid” or donated it, that is illegal as well, since corporations may not contribute to political candidates in North Carolina.



Well, this escalated quickly.

Dean Debnam, chair of Wake Citizens For Good Government—the PAC behind the #DrunkTown ads targeting various candidates for Raleigh City Council—will file a complaint on Monday with the Wake County Board of Elections against Zack Medford and his non-profit Keep Raleigh Vibrant, as well as Jeff Tippett and his consulting firm Targeted Persuasion. The complaint alleges charges of potential illegal coordination, potential illegal corporate contributions and unreported campaign expenditures. 

"Based on recent press reports, public record findings, internet postings and public admission, Respondents appear to be illegally coordinating through ongoing expenditures, collection of contributions and in-kind contributions, the support for the election of one or more clearly identified candidates, made in concert or cooperation with, or at the request of agent(s) of the candidate or agent(s) of candidate committees with corporations and individuals resulting in prohibited contributions and expenditures to candidates in Raleigh City Council elections," the complaint states. 

The complaint, which Debnam made available today, also alleges that Keep Raleigh Vibrant hired Targeted Persuasion to create websites and post on social media accounts and to campaign for candidates by recruiting volunteers to staff phone banks, knock on doors, hand out flyers and staff polling locations. It also presents evidence of Medford and Targeted Persuasion employees hosting candidates at downtown bars and restaurants. The complaint alleges that Keep Raleigh Vibrant didn't report paying Targeted Persuasion for these efforts and didn't report funds raised at these events or food and drink contributions to the Wake County Board of Elections.

Medford, the founder of Keep Raleigh Vibrant says his group never hired Targeted Persuasion and that Tippett and other Targeted Persuasion consultants do not work for Keep Raleigh Vibrant. Tippett said Debnam's accusations are "untrue" and "easily dismissed," and that Targeted Persuasion has never been retained by Medford or by Keep Raleigh Vibrant. 

The consulting firm does however work on the campaigns of several of the candidates Keep Raleigh Vibrant  has publicly endorsed, including Bonner Gaylord, Ashton Mae Smith, Eugene Weeks and JB Buxton who all made payments to the group, according to Wake County Board of Elections reports. 

"This allegation is just another case of Dean Debnam using his massive fortune paired with the politics fear and intimidation to buy the election," Medford said in a statement. "Keep Raleigh Vibrant has done nothing illegal, and has not coordinated with any candidate or campaign. What Keep Raleigh Vibrant has done is run a positive advocacy campaign that's had a major impact on the chances for Russ Stephenson and Kay Crowder to be elected. This is dirty politics and Debnam should be ashamed."

Tippett echoed Medford's sentiments.

"This is a disappointing end to a hard fought but otherwise clean campaign," he said. "It’s a shame that Mr. Debnam feels the need to interject himself into Raleigh politics with negative ads and false accusations. I’m sorry that the people of Raleigh are subjected to Mr. Debnam's campaign based on misleading and false information. No wonder people are fed up with politics."

Debnam is the President of Raleigh-based polling firm Public Policy Polling (the group formerly employed Dustin Ingalls, who now works for Targeted Persuasion and who is named in the complaint.) Is the investigation, which seems a little desperate this late in the game, a response to an unfavorable poll PPP has taken of Raleigh voters?

"I am not going to stand by and do nothing while I see what's happening in our city council election," Debnam said in a statement. "Election officials deserve to be notified of potential abuses and I call on them quickly to investigate so the residents of Raleigh can be informed of any illegal actions involving the companies and individuals named in this complaint. Bar and nightclub owners have given tens of thousands of dollars to candidates and causes pushing for more bars and relaxing rules downtown. The money and activity needs to be accounted for and someone needs to answer to the actions that seem to be going on."

Keep Raleigh Vibrant, a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization is operating in a  legal gray area by endorsing candidates in this election. According to the U.S. IRS website, (c)(4)'s can endorse, but promoting candidates cannot be their primary function. Perry Woods, a political strategist working on Mayor Nancy McFarlane's campaign re-election campaign says the group is in violation of its 501(c)(4) tax status. 

Medford says Keep Raleigh Vibrant has spent less than $500 on Facebook ads, flyers and door hangers to promote the group's endorsements. 

Happy Saturday everyone! And remember, Tuesday is election day so go vote if you haven't already. 

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