June 10, 2022 7:00am

Foushee’s PAC Funding Problematic in Durham’s Congressional Race, Poll Finds

Many think the state senator should publicly disavow the millions spent on her behalf

Photo of Leigh Tauss
Durham, NC Correspondent
 

State Senator Valerie Foushee was catapulted to victory in Durham’s crowded Congressional Primary with the help of millions in PAC funding from pro-Israel groups and a cryptobillionaire. It was the most expensive Democratic primary in North Carolina history and for just over half of respondents to this month’s poll, proof once again that the game is rigged.

Foushee, a five-term state senator whose district covers Orange and Chatham counties, was an early favorite in the race by the state’s establishment Democrats. Her most formidable challenge came from Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, who made history in 2020 cycle by becoming the first Muslim woman ever to win elected office in the state.

Allam received the endorsements of some of the nation’s most prominent progressives, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

By the end of 2021, Allam had raised nearly twice as much money as Foushee, according to campaign finance records. Allam had amassed $306,007 to Foushee’s $163,076. Neither reported any self-funding, and less than 3 percent of each candidate's coffers came from PACs.

But in March, the tides abruptly changed. As reported in The Assembly, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee dumped $433,000 into Foushee’s war chest–more than half of her total fundraising at that point–and super PACs United Democracy Project (an AIPAC affiliate), Democratic Majority for Israel, and Protect Our Future dished out nearly $2.7 million in advertising for Foushee.

Overall, Open Secrets reported that PACs spent more than $3.8 million in satellite funding on the race and 90 percent of that went toward supporting Foushee.

It was no surprise then when Foushee defeated Allam in the primary by 12 percentage points.

The results haven’t sat well with everyone. So this month we asked for your views, not so much on the candidates themselves, but on the role of outside PAC funding in local elections.

For a slight majority of Power Poll respondents––53%––PAC money should have no place in local elections. “The game is rigged,” as they say.

The second-largest portion of you–28%––said while there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with PAC money, the system is in bad need of campaign finance reforms to regulate how PAC money is used.
Combined with the first group, that's 81% of you who believe the system needs to change.

The remaining 19% of respondents say they don’t have a problem with PAC funding as long as the rules are followed.

A democrat was always destined to win the District 4 Congressional seat–the district is the most solidly blue in the state with 67% of voters identifying as Democrats, according to the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. So the issue wasn’t if a Democrat would win, but who, and for what issues and values.

Here, the money is talking, and loudly: wealthy pro-Israel PACs didn’t want to see Allam in office. They got what they wanted.

So far, Foushee has downplayed the role of PAC money in her victory. As far as addressing the issue, 44% of respondents think she should publicly disavow the money to show she isn’t beholden to outside interests.

However, 28% of folks don’t think Foushee needs to say anything and “won the primary fair and square.” Another 28% said that while Foushee did nothing wrong and ran a clean campaign, she should use her PAC funding as a teachable moment to push for campaign finance reform.

On a lighter note, I asked about your thoughts on HBO’s new show, “The Staircase” a dramatization of Durham’s infamous Michael Peterson murder trial. Peterson was convicted of killing his wife after she was found bloody at the bottom of a staircase and served 8 years in prison before being granted a retrial and eventually being released on an Alford plea.

I asked what you thought of the show. It seems most of you–60%–have never heard of the Peterson trial or don’t care about the show. A quarter of respondents said they are sick of hearing about the case and wish the media would fixate on something else. Thirteen percent of you said you’ve been watching and enjoying it (me too) while 2 percent of folks said they think it’s in poor taste.

I probably should have asked about the new season of Stranger Things instead.

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