Scott Mooneyham: So the jockeying, and fundraising, begins for next election

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RALEIGH — The next elections in North Carolina may be months away, but that doesn’t mean that the combatants haven’t been preparing for a while now.

While most people have seen or will see those step inside the political ring, the army of people behind the candidates, the consultants, are doing the real preparation now.

When they talk candidly, Democratic and Republican consultants agree on three factors that will shape the 2014 elections and the fundraising around it: More money than ever will flow outside of campaign committees and through independent expenditure organizations; huge sums from donors outside the state will go toward supporting and opposing Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan; backlash against the Republican legislature means Democrats within the state will raise a good deal more money than in 2012.

That more money will move outside of campaign committees and political parties — being raised and spent by Super PACs, so-called 527s, and nonprofits — should come as no surprise.

It’s a trend that has been underway for a while.

It has only picked up speed as court decision have undermined donor limits and restrictions, while the limits have remained intact for the individual candidates and their campaign committees.

In 2010, the conservative independent expenditure group Real Jobs NC enjoyed big influence in helping Republicans win majorities in the North Carolina House and Senate.

With its big-money donors, including retail magnate Art Pope and pharmaceutical testing firm owner Fred Eschelman, Real Jobs was able to operate outside the constraints and whims of the politicians and their campaign committees to direct spending in legislative districts that it identified as most likely for success.

Two years later, a Democratic independent group, Common Sense Matters, had gotten into the game. Independent groups also arose around the hotly contest state Supreme Court race between incumbent Justice Paul Newby and Sam Ervin IV.

The trend is going to accelerate because big-money donors have more say in where the money goes.

“These people come from the business world. They are used to having control,” one consultant told me.

Another reason that it will accelerate is because of the state of Democratic Party in North Carolina right now.

If Democrats are able to raise significantly larger sums than in 2012, that money will come from the efforts of the Jim Hunt wing of the party, the pro-business moderates. They won’t be entrusting much of that money to the more liberal party and legislative leadership. That fund-raising effort will have an eye not just on supporting Democratic legislative candidates, but also on beginning to try to undermine support for Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

Meanwhile, huge sums — one consultant suggested between $75 million and $100 million — will move into North Carolina to try to defeat or re-elect Hagan.

If a larger portion goes toward her eventual Republican opponent, then some consultants see that as mitigating any new activity by Democrats within the state.