FACT CHECK: A closer look at Tillis’ $80 million claim against Cunningham, Democrats

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis repeatedly made mention of a large sum of outside spending on the race for his seat in the Senate.

Tillis, a Republican, is facing Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham in the general election in November.


CBS 17 took a closer look at some of the claims made by Tillis during Tuesday night’s debate with Cunningham as part of our political pledge to test the factual accuracy of public communications offered by candidates, political action committees or partisan groups.

THE CLAIM: On multiple occasions during the debate, Tillis accused U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) of funding at least part of Cunningham’s campaign. “Cal, you received $80 million from Chuck Schumer,” Tillis said.

THE FACTS: Tillis appears to be connecting pro-Democrat Super PACs — formally known as independent expenditure-only political action committees — to Cunningham. Super PACs, which may spend unlimited sums of money on races independent from the campaigns, are prohibited from contributing money directly to candidates or from coordinating their spending with the candidates they support.

The race is one of the most expensive Senate races in history, with the Republicans hoping to remain in control of the legislative body Democrats 

Aaron Simpson, a spokesman for the Cunningham campaign, said Tillis “is attacking Cal to distract from his own failed record” in a statement to CBS17.com.

When asked where the $80 million figure came from, Andrew Romeo, a spokesman for the Tillis campaign, provided CBS17.com with a list of seven Super PACs and the amounts contributed.

Advertising Analytics tracks election spending through data from the Federal Communications Commission’s public file, transparency reports from Google and Facebook and broadcast and radio ownership groups and cable companies.

The president of that company, Kyle Roberts, provided CBS17.com with a chart showing Democratic outside spending on the North Carolina Senate race.

A chart provided by Advertising Analytics breaking down outside spending in the Senate race in North Carolina.

Adding the top six spenders on that list — plus the action fund of one of those aforementioned committees — yields a total of $82,374,913.

But opensecrets.org, a website published by the non-profit, nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, puts the total spent through Tuesday much lower.

That website lists all spending on the race in the current election cycle at $77.8 million, and that counts spending both in support of a candidate and in opposition to that candidate’s opponent.

According to opensecrets.org, the biggest spender in the race is the Senate Leadership Fund — a pro-Republican Super PAC that has spent $11.6 million. 

It also shows one of the committees on the Advertising Analytics list — the Senate Majority PAC, a pro-Democrat Super PAC — spending $94,720 in support of Cunningham but nearly $9.8 million against Tillis.

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