I-Team investigates outside money's influence on local elections

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(WTVD)

The primary race in the 2nd Congressional District and the race for U.S. Senate here in North Carolina have seen outside money flood in over the past couple weeks and months.

The ABC11 I-Team examined spending over just the last three weeks. We found more than $2 million has been given to candidates and political action committees. That's the money we can track. Critics are worried about what we can't.

You've seen the ads on television for months now. Political ads - often sharply critical of candidates - are out to sway voter opinion. In many cases, they are paid for with what's often called dark money.

"Which is money that's going to take a long time to figure out where the money came from, and really what the agenda is behind that money," said the Director for the Institute for Southern Study Chris Kromm.

Kromm has been tracking political spending for years. He said increasingly that dark money is paying for political pull in North Carolina.

"It looks like about three-fourths of the money that's going to be spent on that race is going to come from these kind of shadowy outside groups," said Kromm. "Now, some of those we're going to be able to track and figure out who they are, but it could take months before we figure it out."  

Big money doesn't always go where you might expect it to.

"One of the big surprises this year has been a race for the North Carolina Supreme Court," said Kromm.

Kromm said a group called "Justice for All" has been targeting incumbent Judge Robin Hudson.

Recent filings with the state Board of Elections show the same group has gotten a lot of money from the Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington -- $650,000 in one shot and $250,000 in another.

Hudson herself has taken in over a $100,000 over the past few weeks, as have other candidates raking in tens of thousands of dollars in this political 11th hour.

"It means we have more money coming in and that pushes the voice of ordinary voters out," said Kromm. "When those people get elected, studies have shown that the people they listen to are the people that supported them and helped get them there.  That's just natural."

The money is still coming in. Tuesday afternoon, about 10 more financial disclosure reports were posted to the state elections website.

Remember, this is only the primary election. Money spent in the general election is expected to dwarf whatever has been spent so far.
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