FACT CHECK: Group brings up Cunningham’s state Senate expenses from 18 years ago

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A group backing Republican U.S. Senator Thom Tillis is criticizing Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham from his time as a state senator nearly 20 years ago.

Cunningham is facing Tillis in the general election in November.


CBS 17 took a closer look at some of the claims in the ad 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: The ad produced by the Senate Leadership Fund says when Cunningham was in the state Senate in 2002, he “got paid thousands” of dollars in taxpayer money by claiming 28 days of expenses one month but “only showed up for six.”

THE FACTS: The ad cites a story in The News & Observer from Sept. 3, 2002, in which Cunningham and two other state senators at the time received expense allowances seven days a week in August 2002, a month in which the Senate met six days. 

In response, Aaron Simpson, a spokesman for the Cunningham campaign, called the claims “intentionally misleading” and adding that they are “portraying a standard legislative practice … as improper corruption.”

Under state law, lawmakers are eligible for a per diem of $104 per day for each day the General Assembly is in session, seven days a week, for food and lodging.

Lawmakers have the option to waive those payments, and 18 years ago, state Senate leader Marc Basnight encouraged them to opt out.

Legislators in the state also receive a salary of $13,951 per year.

Cunningham told the newspaper at the time that he waived those payments in 2001 but that he couldn’t afford to opt out in 2002.

North Carolina is one of 26 states with legislatures that are considered “hybrids” of full-time and part-time. Among those states that pay their lawmakers a yearly rate — Kentucky and Nevada have daily pay rates — North Carolina ranks as the fourth lowest.

And at $104 per day for the 22 days in August 2002 that the state Senate did not meet, the amount of money referred to in the campaign ad comes out to a total of $2,288.

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