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Anglin’s Republican court campaign largely funded by Democrats

November 9th, 2018

— Controversial state Supreme Court candidate Chris Anglin’s campaign finance report is finally public, and his top funders by far were major players in local Democratic politics.

Anglin’s campaign also appears to have violated state campaign finance law by filing its report by mail, instead of electronically, which is required of statewide campaigns that raise more than $5,000.

As a result, voters went to the polls Tuesday without knowing who funded Anglin’s campaign, which raised more than $17,000. Most of that money came from one couple: Dean and Sesha Debnam, significant donors to Democratic candidates.

Anglin ran as a Republican, but he was disavowed by the state party and widely considered a Democratic plant meant to divide GOP votes and help Democrat Anita Earls beat incumbent Republican Justice Barbara Jackson in a three-way race.

Had Anglin not been on the ballot, and if all of his votes went to Jackson, she would have won re-election Tuesday. As it was, Earls won with just under 50 percent of the vote. Anglin’s consultant, Perry Woods, said Thursday that the campaign felt it successfully stood up for disaffected Republicans and an independent judiciary.

Decision 2018 graphic

The Republican legislative majority has tinkered repeatedly with the judiciary in recent years, passing laws meant to change the way judges are elected and appointed.

Anglin was the first Republican that Woods, a Democratic consultant, has worked for. The Debnams have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the North Carolina Democratic Party and its candidates over the years, and Woods said the Anglin campaign asked them for a donation.

They gave $10,400 to Anglin’s campaign, the maximum allowed by law. They gave the same amount to Earls.

The Debnams issued a written statement through a spokesman Thursday in response to an interview request: “We supported Chris Anglin because he wanted to stand up to the Republicans who wanted to rig our courts, and he was running to champion a fight for an independent judiciary.”

Anglin’s campaign finance disclosure was postmarked Oct. 29, the due date for these forms ahead of the Nov. 6 election. The certified package was sent from Garner, but it didn’t arrive at the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement in Raleigh until Election Day.

It posted Thursday to the board’s online registry of campaign disclosures. An image of the envelope, with the postmark and delivery date, is included.

Neither Anglin nor his treasurer returned messages Thursday. Woods said he did not realize campaigns that pass the $5,000 threshold are supposed to file electronically. That rule is in place, in part, to expedite a public release of who funds political campaigns.

Anglin’s Republican candidacy wouldn’t have been possible without machinations from the General Assembly’s Republican majority, which canceled this year’s judicial primaries late last year. Leadership said then that they needed more time to contemplate judicial redistricting efforts that were under discussion at the statehouse, and they didn’t want the May primary deadline hanging over them.

Left unexplained at the time: Why they needed to cancel a statewide Supreme Court primary when statewide races don’t have districts to redraw.

Democrats publicly suspected that Republicans hoped the move would protect Jackson by drawing multiple Democratic candidates to the race and splitting the Democratic vote without a primary to winnow the field. The party solidified instead behind Earls, an attorney involved in a number of redistricting and voting rights cases filed against the Republican majority in recent years.

In canceling the primary, the legislature also voided a requirement that candidates be registered with their party at least 90 days before filing to run under their banner. Once a registered Democrat, Anglin changed his affiliation a month before filing as a Republican.

GOP legislators tried to change the law again to keep Anglin from appearing on the ballot with an “R” next to his name, but the courts struck that down, saying the legislature couldn’t make the change retroactively.

Anglin consistently referred to himself as a “constitutional Republican” and said he wanted to offer another option to Republicans upset over changes the legislative majority has made to the judiciary in recent years. He also said that he wanted to “point out the mistake this legislature has created with doing away with the primary elections.”

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