Wake County District Attorney Watch: Raising Money

Campaign FinanceI’ve heard some talk around the courthouse about how difficult it would be to raise the kind of money to make a viable candidate in looming race for Wake County District Attorney. “Someone with deep pockets will need to run.”

Really?

Some people have even lamented about money in a District Attorney’s race.

Look, we’re not talking about an expensive race. We’re talking about a fairly modest amount of money, in a very wealthy part of the state, and with a million people in the county.

Think of raising money as a test of competency.

I was a fundraiser in my past life in think tanks and non-profits, both in direct mail and in meetings with donors. If you can’t raise $250,000, which is what was raised by the elected Republican District Attorney in Mecklenburg County in 2010, then you have no business running an office of about 40 prosecutors, a couple of million in budget, and located in the state’s capital city. (Durham County, where in a contested race candidates raised between $10,000 and $20,000, doesn’t count. That’s – shall we say – pathetic and unworthy of the name “democracy.”)

I expect that Colon Willoughby could walk out tomorrow and raise $250,000 without missing a beat, which is a testament to his effectiveness as a politician, and evidence that he can run an office. The fact that he never needed to because the Republicans punted in 2010 doesn’t mean he couldn’t do it.

And if he decides to run for Attorney General in 2016 with Roy Cooper running for Governor, you bet he can raise money from the trial lawyers who in 2011 named him their top prosecutor. (Cooper raised about a half million dollars in 2012, but more than $2 million in 2000 when he first ran for the statewide Attorney General’s office.)

No one has had to raise very much money for an important county-wide race because we don’t have any such truly contested races in Wake County. Judges races are inexpensive affairs, where incumbents rule, except when there is a concerted effort in favor of a party-backed (but officially, non-partisan) candidate. The Raleigh mayor is a part-time job in a strong city manager arrangement.

The Republicans are better situated here. Direct mail is a perfected conservative technique, which is how it was passed down to me. From Richard Viguerie to Kevin Gentry to me. Republicans also have great mailing lists.

Republicans also still have the Tea Party, which is not dead yet, and which has been converted into a grass roots force that can raise money, and get votes to the ballot box.

Republicans are going to be invested in a candidate who will be reasonable (e.g., not punish people for technical violations) when enforcing campaign finance laws with a Republican-led General Assembly and a Republican administration.

That said, Lorrin Freeman, who announced her candidacy for Wake County District Attorney on Friday is going to be able to marshall the support of the Democratic establishment’s money. And Boz Zellinger has raised $77,000 from wealthy family and family friends.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.