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One of Gov. Pat McCrory’s talking points during his many interviews on HB2, the controversial new state law, is that the pro-LGBT group Human Rights Campaign is an immensely powerful group that’s stifling debate.
On May 24 his campaign sent out a mass email with a link to a radio interview he had done that morning, asking people to listen. So we did, and a minute in, we heard the familiar refrain.
The Human Rights Campaign "is probably the most powerful special interest group out of Washington, D.C.," McCrory said in the interview, with Charlotte station WBT. "And it's funded – their funders? We don't know who funds them, but they have about $32 million a year."
We previously rated False his claim that the group is more powerful than the National Rifle Association.
For this fact check, however, we were intrigued by McCrory’s claim that "we don’t know who funds them." This interview wasn’t the first time McCrory has made a statement like that, so we figured we ought to look into it.
Political nonprofits known as 501(c)(4) groups, like the HRC, are not required to disclose their donors. But the HRC does so voluntarily, at least for its large corporate donors. That’s the first crack in McCrory’s argument.
The Human Rights Campaign files public Form 990 tax records each year, said spokesman Brandon Lorenz. That’s good; doing otherwise would be unlawful.
"Additionally, we voluntarily and proudly annually publish a list of our major donors in Equality Magazine, our quarterly magazine that both lives online and is mailed to approximately 350,000 homes," Lorenz said.
That is also true. The magazine lists dozens of major sponsors, although it doesn’t say how much they gave to reach the various levels of sponsorship, which are bronze, silver, gold and platinum.
We reached out to McCrory’s campaign with this information and asked if there was anything we were missing or misunderstanding about his claim, but we never heard back.
In total, the Spring 2016 issue of Equality Magazine lists 47 "corporate partners" and 32 "foundation partners." Some show up in both lists, like Microsoft and Nike, while others only show up in one.
The corporate donors contributed toward the group’s total revenues, which tax records show was $37.4 million for the year between April 2014 and March 2015 – actually a bit higher than what McCrory said in the interview.
The list of partners reveals a menagerie of supporters: Banking, pharmaceutical, energy and tech giants alongside companies like vodka distiller Ketel One and defense contractor Northrop Grumman.
For the full list of corporate sponsors, see page 31 of the print magazine’s Spring 2016 edition or page 32-33 in the online magazine.
Identifying PAC donors
But much of the money donated to the nonprofit as a whole can go to more mundane expenses like salaries, rent, travel and educational initiatives. What about the explicitly political giving?
In 2016 so far, the group’s PAC and super PAC – which are used to give directly to candidates or purchase ads – have raised a combined $1.37 million.
And for that money, we know not only the names of every major donor but also how much they gave, where they live and what they do. It’s all listed in publicly available Federal Election Commission reports, which are helpfully aggregated by the Center for Responsive Politics at www.opensecrets.org.
Of the 10 largest individual donations to the group’s PAC, called Human Rights Campaign 2016, three were from North Carolina residents.
The names, occupations, hometowns, dates and giving amounts of anyone who donated more than $200 are listed.
So far, there have been 396 such donations – but 70 percent of the PAC’s $1,052,936 was donated in increments of less than $200, from donors who are not required to be identified, and whom the HRC does not identify voluntarily.
As for the super PAC, called Human Rights Campaign Equality Votes 2016, the group lists 265 donations of more than $200 this election cycle. Unlike the PAC, these large donations accounted for the majority of the $316,154 donated to the super PAC.
One notable donation was the $1,000 from Robert Williams, co-owner of the North Carolina design company Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, which is itself a platinum-level corporate sponsor of the HRC. There was also $2,500 from Joni Madison, who recently left the Durham ad agency McKinney to become the HRC’s chief operations officer.
Combined, all these publicly listed donations from North Carolina and elsewhere add up to more than $500,000 out of the total $1.37 million raised by the PAC and Super PAC.
McCrory is clearly wrong that "We don't know who funds them."
In the case of the group’s overall budget, we know the name of 47 corporations who are major contributors, ranging from Nationwide Insurance to Starbucks. We don’t know much they gave, but we can at least see how they stack up in a tiered sponsorship system.
In the case of the purely political donations, we don’t know the identity of the majority of the donors, who gave in small amounts. But an easy search of public data shows hundreds of people, from business owners and activists to farmers and dentists, who gave more than $200 to the group’s PAC and Super PAC, along with how much they gave.
The Human Rights Campaign is not fully transparent, but it’s more transparent than other so-called dark money groups. We rate this claim Mostly False.
Update: This article has been updated to include the correct spelling for Brandon Lorenz.
Equality Magazine, published by the Human Rights Campaign
Equality Magazine, Spring 2016 edition, via Issuu
Email interview with HRC spokesman Brandon Lorenz
Center for Responsive Politics, 2016 data on the HRC Super PAC
Center for Responsive Politics, 2016 data on the HRC PAC
Radio interview with Charlotte station WBT on May 24, 2016
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