Labor unions unleash attack on North Carolina senator

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., shown here while speaking Jan. 15, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., shown here while speaking Jan. 15, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Jacquelyn Martin

Two of the nation’s biggest labor unions unleashed a $1.8 million ad blitz attacking Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina Friday, assailing his support for tax breaks for the natural gas industry while he and his wife owned more than $100,000 in energy company shares.

In sponsoring the ad, the 2-million-member Service Employees International Union and AFSCME, with 1.6 million members, sought to boost the campaign of Burr’s Democratic rival, former North Carolina state Rep. Deborah Ross, who has led the two-term senator in some polls.

The infusion of spending on behalf of Ross in four of the state’s largest television markets is no surprise. If the race stays tight, spending on both sides is expected to zoom toward or even past $100 million, as it did in 2014 when Republican Thom Tillis narrowly defeated Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.

The labor ad notes that in 2012, Burr opposed the STOCK Act, a bill prohibiting insider trading by members of Congress due to revelations about politicians becoming privy to secret corporate financial information in the course of their work. The measure, which became law, requires congressmen and senators to disclose any securities transaction within 45 days.

“Now we learn Burr had over $100,000 in oil and gas stocks while he backed legislation giving tax credits benefitting gas companies,” the ad intones. “And oil and gas companies donated over half a million dollars to Burr’s campaigns.”

Actually, Burr has gotten $732,752 over his career from oil and gas interests, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Burr’s energy stock holdings, however, haven’t worked out so well, mainly because of the plunge in oil, gas and coal prices in recent years. On his 2012 financial disclosure statement, Burr reported that he and his wife, Brooke, held shares worth more than $124,000 in four energy companies, including Chesapeake Energy, the natural gas company whose share prices had fallen due to a glut of domestic gas.

On Dec. 31, 2012, the couple held unrealized losses totaling $28,594, the bulk of it from Chesapeake, according to their investment statements, which Burr made public. By Dec. 31, 2015, statements he filed with that year’s disclosure, their energy holdings had diminished to $83,335 and their unrealized losses on those shares had mounted to $57,849.

Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for Burr’s reelection campaign, responded to the ad by once again seeking to paint Ross as a candidate on the far left.

“Clearly Deborah Ross' liberal allies are concerned now that her dangerous ACLU record is starting to come to the forefront of this race, and voters are learning more about her radical tendencies,” Hunt said. He referred to Ross’ past work as executive director of the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

But Mary Kay Henry, international president ofthe Service Employees Union, said “the record shows Senator Burr is on his own side and he’s on the big oil and gas companies’ side, and that means he’s not standing with North Carolina’s working families.”

Shirin Bidel-Niyat, AFSCME’s assistant director of political action, said the union is “investing in North Carolina because we see a path to success for candidates that will fight for an economy that works for everyone, not the wealthy few.”

Labor union political action committees also have donated to Ross’ campaign, but not nearly to the extent of Friday’s start of a two-week ad buy. Through June 30th, building trades, public sector and industrial unions had donated $124,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That figure could grow sharply when the candidates’ third-quarter fundraising is revealed Oct. 15th.

The ads are due to run in Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham and the Greensboro-High Point-Winston-Salem and Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson markets.

Greg Gordon: 202-383-6152, @greggordon2