Ex-Til­lis donors to chair his Repub­li­can ri­val’s event

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Local - BY BRIAN MUR­PHY bmur­[email protected]­clatchydc.com

Steve Zel­nak, the for­mer CEO and chair­man of the board at Raleigh-based Martin Ma­ri­etta Ma­te­ri­als, do­nated $5,000 to Sen. Thom Til­lis in Fe­bru­ary. The do­na­tions weren’t shock­ing: He’d given to Til­lis in 2014 and 2018.

On Wed­nes­day night, how­ever, Zel­nak and his wife Judy will serve as chair­men for the first fundraiser for Til­lis’ 2020 Repub­li­can challenger — Gar­land Tucker. It costs $5,600 per cou­ple to be listed as a chair­man for the event at the Carolina Coun­try Club in Raleigh, ac­cord­ing to an in­vi­ta­tion ob­tained by McClatchy.

Of the 17 in­di­vid­u­als or cou­ples listed as chair­men for the event, at least five have do­nated to Til­lis in the past, ac­cord­ing to cam­paign fi­nance records. Tucker him­self do­nated $2,600 to Til­lis in 2014.

Bob and Maria Luddy do­nated $ 7,800 to Til­lis in 2014 dur­ing his first run for the U.S. Se­nate. Til­lis, the speaker of the N.C. House at the time, emerged from an eight-way Repub­li­can pri­mary and then de­feated in­cum­bent Kay Ha­gan in the gen­eral elec­tion.

But the Lud­dys, too, are listed as chair­men for Tucker’s event. Bob Luddy is the founder and chair­man of the Raleigh­based Cap­tiveAire Sys­tems. Luddy said his dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Til­lis comes from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s spend­ing and in­creas­ing debt and deficit.

“(Tucker) will ab­so­lutely hold the line on the spend­ing bills,” said Luddy, who also founded Thales Academy, pri­vate schools that have more than 3,000 stu­dents in Wake County. “We have to get it across to the Congress. ... We can­not spend our­selves to death. We don’t have any re­al­is­tic plan to ever pay that debt off.”

The na­tional debt hit a record $22 tril­lion in Fe­bru­ary. The deficit is ex­pected to be more than $1.1 tril­lion this year with fed­eral spend­ing out­pac­ing rev­enue by $317 bil­lion in the first quar­ter, ac­cord­ing to data from the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice. Til­lis voted to raise spend­ing caps in both 2015 and 2018, while Sen. Richard Burr of NC voted no.

Luddy, who served as chair­man of the board of the con­ser­va­tive Civ­i­tas In­sti­tute, said that he plans to do­nate just to Tucker dur­ing the pri­mary, but said he would vote for Til­lis if he were to win the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion. Luddy said he did not know if he would do­nate to Til­lis dur­ing the gen­eral elec­tion. In 2015, Luddy with­held a cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion to NC House Repub­li­cans over tax pol­icy and, what he deemed, a “lib­eral” spend­ing pol­icy.

Tucker, a Raleigh busi­ness­man and au­thor of two books on con­ser­va­tive politi­cians, has not yet filed a cam­paign fi­nance re­port. He joined the race in early May. Tucker was founder and for­mer CEO of Tri­an­gle Cap­i­tal Cor­po­ra­tion. He said he is pre­pared to spend his own money in the cam­paign.

“It’s go­ing to be an ex­pen­sive process to take on an in­cum­bent, so we’re not naive about that,” Tucker told McClatchy ear­lier this month. “We’re self-fund­ing the start up, and we’re also at the same time crank­ing up a reg­u­lar, con­ven­tional fundrais­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion. We’re ex­pect­ing as we make some progress to gen­er­ate sub­stan­tial funds away from mine.”

Carter Wrenn, a Tucker cam­paign con­sul­tant, said the can­di­date is “ca­pa­ble of fund­ing sev­eral mil­lion dol­lars worth.”

Zel­nak has given to many Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­dates over the past few years, in­clud­ing Martha McSally of Ari­zona, Josh Haw­ley of Mis­souri, Dean Heller of Ne­vada, David Per­due of Ge­or­gia and Burr. He also do­nated to Marco Ru­bio, a Florida Repub­li­can se­na­tor who ran for pres­i­dent in 2016.

The oth­ers who do­nated to Til­lis in the past, but are serv­ing as chair­men are Peggy and Cliff Ben­son, San­dra and Tom Henderson and Grey and Doug Vaughn.

“I sup­ported Til­lis, but I’m not go­ing to do it again. We hear some of that,” Wrenn said.

Of the 52 in­di­vid­u­als or cou­ples listed as chair­man ($5,600 per cou­ple giv­ing level), host ($2,000), co-host ($1,000) or spon­sor ($500) of the event, at least 13 have do­nated to Til­lis in the past.

Til­lis raised $1.1 mil­lion in the first quar­ter of 2019 and has more than $2.9 mil­lion cash on hand for his re-elec­tion bid, ac­cord­ing to the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion.

Til­lis at­tended a fundraiser with Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence in Greens­boro last week, but the money went to Trump Vic­tory and not to Til­lis.

‘‘ WE HAVE TO GET IT ACROSS TO THE CONGRESS. ... WE CAN­NOT SPEND OUR­SELVES TO DEATH. WE DON’T HAVE ANY RE­AL­IS­TIC PLAN TO EVER PAY THAT DEBT OFF. Gar­land Tucker sup­porter Bob Luddy

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