A four-minute silent video of Charlotte's Dan McCready was uploaded on YouTube last week. McCready is running against Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop and two other candidates in a redo of last year's 9th congressional district on Sept. 10. Bishop posted silent video in May.
The practice is seen as an invitation for a super PAC which can't legally coordinate with a campaign to use the footage in helpful ads. Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, including from so-called "dark money" groups that can keep secret their funding sources.
McCready has vowed to reject donations to his campaign from corporate sources.
"Dark money and corporate money have no place in our democracy. That's why today I'm proud to announce we're rejecting all corporate PAC money in our campaign for #NC09. When I'm in Congress, the voters will know: my vote isn't for sale," McCready tweeted in March.
Asked whether the silent video belied McCready's stated aversion to "dark money," McCready campaign spokesman Matt Fried said: "Dan McCready hasn't taken a dime of Corporate PAC money and has the experience to bring both sides of the aisle together to fix our broken campaign funding system."
Corporate PACs are different from super PACS and make up only a small percentage of the money flooding into the U.S. political system. Corporate PACs are committees largely funded by individual employee contributions rather than the company itself and have a $5,000 per candidate, per election limit.
Fried noted that Bishop has accepted money from corporate PACs. The Republican's donors include PACs tied to Branch Banking & Trust and steelmaker Nucor Corp. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to Republican leaders in the U.S. House, is spending $1.2 million to back Bishop, The Charlotte Observer reported.
Bishop spokeswoman Jessica Proud pushed back in an email: "With each day that passes, Dan McCready is further exposed as a phony and a hypocrite."
Presidential and U.S. Senate campaigns made extensive use in 2016 of offering silent videos easily available for friendly outside groups.
Fewer U.S. House campaigns have sought to make soft-focus campaign video available for anyone to download because of the risk that an opponent can use the footage in efforts to mock or shame the candidate, High Point University political scientist Martin Kifer said.
"It's pretty clear in this digital age campaigns have less control once they release any kind of material out into the world. It could be used for them or against them, and I think this is a situation where a campaign may be releasing additional material and may have a hope that it will be used by people that are partial to it," he said Tuesday.
Next month's redo election in the 9th district is expected to be a low-turnout contest that turns on which candidates can persuade their core supporters to cast ballots. The district - which stretches from suburban Charlotte to suburban Fayetteville along the South Carolina border - has been in GOP hands since 1963. President Donald Trump won it by 12 percentage points in 2016.
The new election was mandated after the state elections board found former Republican candidate Mark Harris ignored warnings and paid a political operative who collected mail-in ballots, which is illegal in North Carolina. Harris opted not to run again. The operative and several associates face state criminal charges.
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