RALEIGH (AP) — Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday signed into law a move for all of North Carolina’s primaries next year to March 15, including the political parties’ presidential contests. A $2 billion bond referendum also is expected on statewide ballots that day.
McCrory announced the bill signing the same day that changes he said he sought to the legislation were added to another bill finalized by the General Assembly before lawmakers adjourned for the year.
The signed bill means the candidate filing period for all elections — for governor, U.S. Senate, Congress, the General Assembly and judges among them — begins Dec. 1, or two months earlier had primaries remained at their traditional May slot.
The General Assembly agreed two years ago to move up the May 2016 presidential primary to increase North Carolina’s clout, but national party officials threatened state Republicans and Democrats with the loss of convention delegates because they would have actually occurred in late February.
The new law moved all primaries in the name of saving counties the financial costs of holding two primaries and saving the public any confusion. Final bond package legislation that McCrory is expected to support also sets the referendum date for the presidential primary vote.
McCrory and state Republican activists had raised concerns about provisions in the primaries legislation unrelated to the primary dates but involving campaign finance. The new law allows state House and Senate caucuses to create “affiliated party committees” that can raise money to support legislative candidates without going through the state party operations.
“The General Assembly agreed to make revisions to address those concerns,” McCrory said in Wednesday’s release. “This bill as signed increases the transparency for the general public and members of the media.”
The supplemental legislation makes clear the affiliated caucus committees could only spend money to support House or Senate candidates, depending on the group. The measure also allows the creation of similar affiliated committees jointly held by members of the Council of State from the same party. Council members include the governor, lieutenant governor and other statewide elected officials. None of the groups could raise money from lobbyists during the legislative sessions.
The campaign committee language in the primaries bill worried state GOP officials and led to accusations the party’s top legislative leaders wanted to distance themselves from the state party and new Chairman Hasan Harnett, who defeated a rival who had support of the party’s establishment wing, including McCrory. It augmented tensions at state Republican Party meetings last weekend.
But as the adjustments moved through a committee Tuesday evening, Harnett, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger held an impromptu news conference that suggested detente, if not renewed cooperation.
“The grassroots have been listened to,” Harnett said, and “we’re looking forward to working with the House and Senate.”
Moore said the affiliated committees were just another campaign finance tools that lawmakers wanted at their disposal and said proceeds from such a group, if created, wouldn’t be used to try to defeat fellow Republicans in primary contests.
“We certainly do support our state party,” Moore said.