No, liberal super-donor George Soros hasn’t contributed money to longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Walter Jones.
But a GOP challenger to Jones is trying to tie the Eastern North Carolina Republican to the billionaire investor just weeks before the May 8 primary.
And his campaign gave $1 to Jones to try to prove it.
Scott Dacey, a Craven County commissioner and federal lobbyist for Native American tribes, says Jones has accepted “over $80,000 in George Soros-backed campaign contributions” and that those contributions explain why Jones has not supported President Donald Trump’s agenda. His campaign released a television ad with the attack this week.
“The voting record is directly tied to these liberal actions that have gone to feather his nest with campaign donations,” Dacey said Friday morning.
The Jones campaign responded with a cease-and-desist letter, calling on Dacey to take down the “intentionally false and misleading” ad and threatening legal action.
“This thing is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what it says about the candidate that is misleading the voters. That’s something he’s got to explain. I can’t explain it for him,” said Jones, who is seeking a final term in the House seat that he has held since 1995.
At this point, neither side is backing down. The TV ad has not been taken down as of Friday morning, Dacey said.
Jones led Dacey 37 to 29 in a recent Civitas Institute poll of 700 likely Republican primary voters in the 3rd District. Phil Law, a Marine Corps veteran who ran second to Jones in 2016, was polling at 15 percent in the district, which stretches across much of Eastern North Carolina, including Greenville, Kinston, Elizabeth City, Jacksonville and the Outer Banks.
No Democrat has filed to run, meaning the winner of the primary is all but certain to represent the district in Congress.
The Dacey campaign’s allegations begin with Friends of Democracy, a super PAC created by Jonathan Soros, George’s son. The now-inactive super PAC was created to change the way money flows into politics by eliminating large donations and independent expenditures.
Jones has long been a champion of campaign finance reform. Friends of Democracy at one point listed Jones as a “House Champion” and listed him as the lone Republican among candidates it supported, according to the Dacey campaign.
That’s likely because is the lone Republican co-sponsor of the “Government By the People Act,” aimed at reforming the financing of congressional elections by broadening participation by small-dollar donors, and he’s a champion for reducing the power of wealthy special interests in our democracy, said Laura Friedenbach, a communications director with Every Voice.
Every Voice formed in 2014 when Friends of Democracy merged with the Public Campaign Action Fund.
In a 2014 Politico story, Jonathan Soros mentioned Jones as a possible beneficiary of the PAC’s money, saying he was looking for “the new McCains,” in reference to Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a proponent of campaign finance reform.
Jones said he met Jonathan Soros about three years ago to discuss getting other Republicans on board with campaign finance reform.
But Jones did not receive money from Friends of Democracy, Jonathan Soros or George Soros, according to Federal Election Commission records.
“He is the one Republican that the Soros operation has identified,” Dacey said.
In its cease-and-desist letter, the Jones campaign said its one and only contribution that came through the Friends of Democracy website was a $1 donation made Sunday by Ryan Kane, the media director for the Dacey campaign. Kane admitted making the payment on Thursday, but said it was simply to test the site before the campaign went public with its accusations. Dacey backed up that account Friday.
“It had nothing to do with trying to engage in a game of gotcha,” Dacey said.
The $80,000 figure comes from Democracy Engine, a payment processing firm used both by Friends of Democracy and, until November, the Jones campaign. Though Democracy Engine makes no mention of partisan affiliation in its website, it is run by Democrats Jonathan Zucker and Erik Pennebaker.
Zucker, the company’s owner and CEO, previously worked at ActBlue and for the Democratic National Committee. Pennebaker, the company’s chief technology officer, worked for former Democratic presidential nominees John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.
Zucker said neither George nor Jonathan Soros have ever owned or invested in the company. “I can say that with confidence since I own the company,” Zucker said.
According to FEC records, Democracy Engine processed $8,250 of donations to the Jones campaign last year, $56,000 in 2016 and $22,065 in 2014.
The Jones campaign paid Democracy Engine $2,380.80 for “merchant fees” during the 2016 election cycle.
The Jones campaign said it chose Democracy Engine as its credit card payment processor because it was the cheapest option. It switched in November to Anedot, which also processes payments for the Dacey campaign, for faster delivery of the money it collected, according to Jones campaign manager Doug Raymond.
“My campaign was trying to find the best way to accept credit card campaign (donations) and they had no idea with the company they affiliated with who owned it. Nobody did,” Jones said.
Dacey said it should have known — and that by using Democracy Engine, which is also registered as a PAC, the Jones campaign exposed its donors to Democratic lists.
“It’s something the Jones contributors should be very upset about,” Dacey said. “Frankly, they should be asking for their money back.”
Zucker said that is not true.
“We have clients and those clients own their data,” he said. “We are not ActBlue. We are a vendor. That is flatly false.”
He said Democracy Engine is registered as a PAC so it can comply with FEC rules when dealing with complex federal earmarked contributions. “It’s not a PAC that makes decisions about where the money goes,” he said.
Jones is not listed among the candidates that Democracy Engine bundled money for during the 2012, 2014 or 2016 elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Jones’ father — Walter B. Jones, Sr. — represented Eastern North Carolina in Congress from 1966 until his death in 1992. Jones ran for his father’s seat in 1992, but lost in the Democratic primary to Eva Clayton. In 1994, Jones ran as a Republican and won his 3rd District seat, which included much of the same areas that his father represented.
In his long tenure, Jones has developed a reputation as an independent or maverick conservative.
“I am a Republican conservative who is a strong man of faith,” Jones said. “I vote against these bills that continue to raise the debt and the deficit on a regular basis.”
The National Rifle Association endorsed Jones in 2012, 2014 and 2016, and gave him an “A” rating as recently as 2012. Jones earned an award from the American Conservative Union in 2016 for his “commitment to America’s Constitution and our nation’s core conservative principles.” Last week, Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, endorsed Jones.
But Jones has voted with Trump less than any other Republican member of the House, according to FiveThirtyEight.com – a sign, Dacey said, of his liberal leanings and of not representing a district that voted for Trump by more than 26 points. Dacey has made featly to the Trump agenda one of his campaign selling points.
Dacey previously ran television ads tying Jones to Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“He may have been a Democrat at one time and changed into a Republican, but the fox has not changed his clothing,” Dacey said.