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Paul Specht
By Paul Specht January 30, 2020

NC Democrat falsely says she hasn't taken corporate PAC money

Two of North Carolina’s Democratic candidates for US Senate claim that they’ve thwarted the influence of special interests.

Attempting to contrast themselves with incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, Cal Cunningham and Erica Smith have claimed they aren’t backed by "special interests."

PolitiFact found that Cunnginham hadn’t directly taken money from corporate committees, but he had accepted money from special interest groups and corporate executives.

Smith, who currently serves as a state Senator, recently said her no "PAC" pledge dates back several years. (PAC stands for political action committee.)

She tweeted that the "ONLY thing we ask of supporters is a canned food item 4 fundraisers that we sponsor that’s donated 2 local food bank. No $$  is required. And I was the 1st & Only  pledge no corporate PAC- have ✅ so since 2016 State Senate #E4US."

On iPhones, the checkmark emoji appears if someone types the word "done." This tweet gives the impression that Smith hasn’t taken money from corporate PACs since 2016.

But Smith’s campaign finance disclosures shows that’s not true.

PAC donations

A few weeks before she launched her U.S. Senate campaign in 2019, her state campaign accepted a $250 check from the CSX Corporation Good Government Fund. CSX is a railroad company.

In 2018, she accepted donations from PACs for AT&T, CVS Health, Charter Communications, Duke Energy, Merck (a pharmaceutical company), the NC Homebuilders Association and the NC Realtors PAC, just to name a few.

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In fact, the News & Observer reported that Smith accepted $13,000 from corporate PACs between her 2016 election and her US Senate launch in 2019. 

Smith told the N&O that a $3,000 donation from Duke Energy was tied to her position as chair of North Carolina’s Legislative Black Caucus. 

Smith response

When we asked Smith to explain her other PAC donations, she acknowledged that her Twitter account was wrong about her fundraising history.

"My campaign’s social media account is managed by staff who overstated the date of my pledge, and for that I take full responsibility that the wrong information was provided in a Twitter response," Smith said in an email to PolitiFact. 

"I have taken small contributions during my time as a state senator but after seeing the pervasive culture of corporate lobbying in the legislature, I made a commitment to running a US Senate campaign that is free of corporate money," she added.

Smith also noted that her campaign hasn’t taken any corporate PAC money in her US Senate race. 

PolitiFact scoured her federal campaign finance records. We also consulted the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign donations. 

"Based on all the filings we have, she has not taken any PAC money," CPR spokesman Brendan Quinn told us in an email.

Our ruling

A tweet by Smith suggested she hadn’t accepted any campaign donations from corporate PACs dating back to 2016. As Smith acknowledges, that’s not true. We rate the tweet False.

Our Sources

A tweet by NC Sen. Erica Smith on Sept. 1, 2019.

Email correspondence with NC Sen. Erica Smith.

Email correspondence with Brendan Quinn, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

Campaign finance reports for the "Vote Erica for NC" campaign on the North Carolina elections board website.

Campaign finance reports for Erica Smith on the Federal Election Commission website.

A breakdown of the "Business / Labor / Ideological Split In Political Action Committees Contributions" in North Carolina’s 2020 U.S. Senate race on the Center for Responsive Politics website.

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NC Democrat falsely says she hasn't taken corporate PAC money

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