The Lee County Republican Party accepted illegal donations in the form of discounted rent over a six year period at its Steele Street headquarters in downtown Sanford, local Democrats have alleged in a complaint to the North Carolina Board of Elections.
According to the complaint, campaign finance reports on file with the state show the Lee GOP having made just 30 rent payments over 72 months to Raleigh-based Sugartree Properties. The payments totaled $10,800, which a press release from the Democratic Party says is “a $66,720 discount off the estimated market value of comparable commercial property.”
It’s a class 2 misdemeanor under state law for political candidates and parties to accept donations – including in-kind donations – from corporations.
In total, Democrats say campaign finance reports show the Lee GOP making nine $300 rent payments in 2018, the same in 2017, three $300 payments in 2016, no rent payments in 2015, nine $500 payments in 2014, and no rent payments in 2013. The total amount paid, the complaint states, is $1.39 per square foot per month, or 11 cents per square foot per year. If the funds paid by the GOP to Sugartree for rent had been remitted on a monthly basis, it would amount to $150 per month.
The complaint cites as evidence of an arrangement for free or discounted rent video from a meeting of the local GOP at which Chairman Jim Womack introduced Robert Abee – the registered agent of Sugartree Properties – as “a great benefactor” and someone who made “a major contribution to the party through an in-kind type of service.”
The report also indicates that the GOP has occupied 1,292 square feet of space at 101 S. Steele St. since roughly 2013, but also notes a discrepancy between that number and a claim made by Womack in a Triad City Beat article from June about his failed bid to become the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party:
“We have the largest Republican headquarters in the state in Lee County, in little ol’ Lee County,” Womack said during a debate about the state chairmanship. “8,000 square feet, and almost every room is occupied. We got a bar. We got a dancefloor. We got a barbershop. We got a prayer room. Folks, we got it all. And we’re right in the middle of downtown Sanford. A year-round presence, we keep the headquarters open. We got Democrats coming in there and they’re converting to our party.”
The Lee GOP didn’t respond to a message with questions about the situation Wednesday morning, and neither Abee nor a spokesperson for the state Board of Elections were available for comment. Under a law passed in 2018, sworn complaints about campaign finance violations are not public records while they’re being investigated.
“They are scofflaws, plain and simple. Apparently, Republican County Chairman Jim Womack and Treasurer Max Dolan don’t believe the North Carolina election laws apply to them,” John Kirkman, chairman of the Lee County Democratic Party said in the press release.
Rent isn’t the only financial issue Democrats noted in their complaint. The complaint also raises questions about funds derived from gun raffles and alleges that the GOP failed to report $12,000 in such contributions. Read the entire complaint here.