Three Tillis donors get seats on UNC board of governors

Jul. 18, 2013 @ 08:46 PM

RALEIGH — A super political action committee for House Speaker Thom Tillis has raised more than $100,000 from five donors for his U.S. Senate campaign.

The amount includes $70,000 from three men the House has appointed to the board of governors of the University of North Carolina.

Donors can make unlimited donations to Grow NC Strong, the independent super PAC that Tillis' supporters set up to help his 2014 bid to challenge Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.

Individual donors can only give $4,000 to Tillis' state legislative campaign and $2,600 to his federal account.

W.G. Champion Mitchell told the newspaper his $25,000 contribution had nothing to do with his recent appointment to the university's governing board.

"I want to see him be our next senator," said Mitchell, who also sits on the super PAC's board.

R. Doyle Parrish, a Raleigh hotel and restaurant owner, was the only registered Democrat whom the House appointed to the UNC board. Parrish is also on the super PAC board and gave $20,000, according to federal campaign finance reports.

The House also chose George A. Sywassink of Hilton Head Island, S.C., who owns Standard Holding Co., which owns a Charlotte commercial freight company. The company contributed $25,000 to Tillis' super PAC.

Sywassink said he has been a long-time supporter of Tillis and also said his appointment had nothing to do with his contribution.

"I happen to think Thom Tillis would do a very good job as a senator," Sywassink said. "That's all I have to say."

The contributions worry Joe Sinsheimer, a former Democratic operative who has become a watchdog who criticized prominent Democrats like Jim Black, Mike Easley and Beverly Perdue.

Sinsheimer said the donations give the appearance of a conflict of interest.

"We don't know what conversations took place behind closed doors and what promises were made," Sinsheimer said.

As an independent PAC, Grow NC Strong is not allowed to coordinate messages or strategy with the Tillis campaign, but it can raise and spend unlimited funds to support his effort.

"We've got a firewall," said Paul Shumaker, a campaign spokesman. "Any talk of a conflict is more a creation in the minds of the media than a perception in the minds of the public."