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RALEIGH — Though few registered voters may be paying attention, there’s a spicy primary runoff for the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic Rep. Brad Miller in the state’s 13th Congressional District.
William “Bill” Randall, a U.S. Navy veteran, led last month’s primary by just 135 votes over Raleigh businessman Bernie Reeves. The two will face off June 22 in the runoff, which is expected to be a low turnout race. The winner will face Miller in the fall.
Randall moved to North Carolina only 19 months ago, but has benefited from aligning himself with the tea party movement. Reeves is a Wake County native and well-known figure inside the capital Beltline.
There is little separation between the two candidates on policy positions – from their criticism of President Barack Obama’s health care and economic policies to their continued support for offshore drilling after the BP disaster.
But Reeves’ campaign has put Randall on the defensive by sending out press releases claiming that large blocks of text on Randall’s website were plagiarized. This week, Reeves suggested that Randall was lying about earning an online master’s degree. Reeves had to back down when the Chicago-based National-Louis University eventually affirmed that Randall had graduated.
Reeves, meanwhile, has paid himself $21,000 in wages from his campaign account since the end of January, according to records filed with the Federal Elections Commission. The campaign has also spent about $30,000 on full-page advertisements in Metro Magazine, a struggling publication that Reeves owns.
Having used his business troubles to bolster his argument that Democrats are mismanaging the economy, Reeves said he has been careful to follow federal rules for how much campaign cash he can convert to personal use, paying himself just under the maximum allowed by law.
He is entitled to the $5,500 paycheck each month, he said, because rather than hire additional campaign staff to raise money, he is raising it himself.
Reeves’ campaign has raised $244,081 and spent nearly all of it, according to his FEC filings. Randall, meanwhile, has raised $70,845.
“I’ve done a heck of a job,” Reeves said of his performance as the chief fundraising staffer for his campaign.
Reeves said advertising revenue at Metro, like that at other media properties, is down about 40 percent since the start of the recession. He hasn’t taken any salary from the magazine in nearly a year, he said. Despite layoffs and other cost-cutting measures, he said, Metro has been operating at a deficit.
“One of the reasons I’m running is to show what the small businessman is suffering through,” Reeves said. “The publishing industry has been decimated. We’ve been run over by the economy, just like The News & Observer has.”
Starting with the February edition of Metro, Reeves’ campaign has made sizable ad buys in the magazine. In the May issue, for example, the Reeves campaign was the only advertiser to buy two full-page spreads.
Reeves also writes a full-page opinion column in the magazine, titled “My Usual Charming Self.” There are ads with his photo promoting his political commentary. Reeves said he has been careful to keep the magazine’s editorial content separate from his congressional candidacy.
Reeves said the decision to buy ads in Metro was made by campaign consultant Carter Wrenn and the campaign’s Washington-based ad agency. The campaign has also bought ads on Fox News channel and on a local radio station that airs Rush Limbaugh’s show.
“They examined which outlets had the best reach among Republican primary voters and naturally they chose Metro,” Reeves said. “I agreed with the decision.”
A spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics said that a candidate paying himself wages or contracting with a personal business is highly unusual.
“Just because something is within the boundaries of the law doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of voters who would be curious to learn about this,” said Dave Levinthal, the communications director for the Washington-based campaign finance watchdog. “In theory, campaign donations are supposed to be used to run campaigns. Because he’s converting the funds for personal use, the public has no way to know what he is spending these campaign funds on.”
Randall, meanwhile, has faced criticism from former campaign staffers. He is currently on his fifth campaign manager in less than a year.
The plagiarism allegations against Randall revolve around the “Articles of Truth” he posted on his Web site in 2009 as part of a grass-roots group he launched called Concerned Citizens for Truth. Large sections of the text closely resemble a well-known conservative manifesto written in 1960 called the Sharon Statement, named for the Connecticut home of author William F. Buckley. After the similarities between the two documents were questioned, Randall added a footnote referencing the original text.
In another example, statements on various policy issues posted on Randall’s website closely resemble text that had originated on the campaign site of Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
Randall declined to comment on the plagiarism allegations Friday, but his website contains a statement that says a low-level campaign staffer posted the text in question.
Randall also would not discuss Reeves’ spending of campaign money for personal paychecks. He said he would abide by Ronald Reagan’s “11th commandment” about not speaking ill of another Republican.
Randall did criticize his opponent for spending more time engaging in personal attacks than on debating issues.
“I think the tactics waged by my counterpart are counterproductive to the overall GOP objective, which is to replace the liberal Democrat in Congress,” Randall said.