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Thom Tillis adds top fundraisers, political staff

U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis announced his top fundraisers Thursday, adding familiar North Carolina names to his campaign.

Former Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner, former Ambassador Dave Phillips, Bob Ingram and Harry Smith will lead the House speaker's finance team. Tillis will need to raise big bucks to win the four-way (for now) Republican primary and compete with incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan, who has a large campaign war chest.

Fundraising follows lawmaking

The lawmaking season is over. Let the fundraising season begin.

Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Republican from Charlotte, emailed invitations Monday morning to her August 15 Raleigh fundraiser.

It's a $250 per person donation to get in, $4,000 to host, $2,000 to co-host.

Samuelson is on the short-list for House Speaker next session. A Charlotte Observer profile this year called the four-term legislator "a proven fundraiser."

Thom Tillis gets the tracker treatment

The Democratic Party is welcoming Thom Tillis welcome to the U.S. Senate race with a tracker. These are typically low-level staffers who follow around the opposition party candidate filming everything they say and do, waiting for a macaca moment or flip out , ala Bob Etheridge.

N.C. Democrats released a video showing footage of Tillis apparently walking between meetings in Washington on Wednesday instead of presiding over the House session. Another greeted him at RDU airport when he returned later in the day. It’s not clear what Tillis tells the camera but at the end Tillis tells the camera in the parking garage “Back to work.”

Morning Memo: McCrory's taxing pledge; Tillis super PAC money questioned

TAX BILL NOW PUTS FOCUS ON McCRORY: Gov. Pat McCrory pledge in his campaign to make any tax overhaul revenue neutral. It was the only specific detail he offered and came under pressure from Democratic candidate Walter Dalton who warned such a tax bill, if not revenue neutral, could lead to huge cuts in government spending on popular services.

With legislative approval Wednesday, the two-billion tax bill goes to the governor. Will he meet his pledge, one he repeated just months ago in his State of the State address? It depends. The governor's office called the bill fiscally responsible and essentially revenue-neutral in the first year at about $35 million in less revenue. From there, the bill is nowhere close to bringing in as much state revenue as projected. And McCrory is moving the goalposts and redefining what he meant. (Read below to see how the governor's office is positioning itself.)

TILLIS SUPER PAC GETS BIG CHECKS FROM 3 HE HELPED PUT ON UNC BOARD: A super PAC for House Speaker Thom Tillis recently raised $105,000 from five donors for his U.S. Senate race, including $70,000 from three men the House appointed to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

The contributions raise more questions about whether donations to the Republican candidate’s bid are connected to legislation in the chamber he controls. They also highlight Tillis’ ability to raise money when other lawmakers are limited in soliciting campaign contributions. W.G. Champion Mitchell said 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,” Mitchell said. “That is the answer.” Read more here.

***Get a full roundup of North Carolina political news and analysis below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Tillis says philosophical divide separates House, Senate on taxes

House Speaker Thom Tillis made clear Tuesday that the divide between the House and Senate tax plans remains a wide gulf.

In an interview, Tillis said the two chambers need to breach a "philosophical" divide -- one that may take days, if not longer, to reconcile. His tone seemed to differ from Senate leader Phil Berger earlier in the day. "We are trying to change the mix in a way we believe will actually stimulate economic activity," Tillis said. "I think the Senate is trying to do the same thing, but they have also focused on spending reductions --which we all want, but we need to do it at a pace that we can actually absorb."

Morning Memo: GOP fundraising, Rural Center face major questions

GOP ABANDONS PLEDGE FOR TAX REFORM: From Rob Christensen's column: Tax reform in North Carolina died last week. RIP. …The House has rolled out its plan, and the Senate has rolled out an alternative plan. Those plans focus almost exclusively on cutting corporate and personal income taxes, rather than revamping the 1930s tax code. So tax reform is dead. In its place, we have large tax cuts, the size and shape of which will be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee. Cutting taxes is in the Republican comfort zone. Reforming the tax code is not. Full story.

LOBBYING FIRM ACTED AS TILLIS, McCRORY FUNDRAISING CONDUIT: The giving by the sweepstakes industry also puts a spotlight on fundraising efforts organized by McGuireWoods. Multiple contributions from sweepstakes operators were often recorded on the same days, with the largest group coming on May 16, 2012, when the Tillis campaign tallied a total of $60,002 from 19 individuals. Days earlier, on May 10, McGuireWoods held a fundraiser at its Raleigh office attended by Payne and lobbyists from other organizations. Harry Kaplan, a McGuireWoods lobbyist, said he invited clients who were interested in meeting with Tillis to talk about the issues they represented. They could also make campaign contributions, which some did, he said.

***More on Tillis, McCrory campaign fundraising, the sweepstakes industry and questions clouding the N.C. Rural Center and top Republicans below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

House Republicans won't push game fish bill

A spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, confirmed Monday that the so-called game fish bill is dead for this year, Patrick Gannon at the Insider reports. "It's not going to move," Jordan Shaw said. The House Republican Caucus made the decision last week and Tillis -- who hasn't taken a public position on the measure -- is respecting that position, Shaw said.

Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake, one of the bill's primary sponsors, said the caucus deferred to coastal legislators who opposed the measure because of opposition from commercial fishermen in their districts. "It puts them in a more difficult spot than anyone else," Murry said of the coastal lawmakers. Murry added that he believed House Bill 983 could have passed the House this year, but that its reception in the Senate might not have been as warm. He said he believed the bill came "closer" to passage this year but that many more negotiations between recreational and commercial fishing interests are needed.

Tillis intends to remain speaker amid his Senate campaign

House Speaker Thom Tillis continued his media tour Friday declaring his intention to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014. He started with Henry Hinton's radio show, Talk of the Town on 103.7 WTIB in Greenville.

Hinton checked Dome (thanks!) before the interview and asked Tillis whether he had any intentions of resigning before his term ended, given the arduous campaign ahead. "I'm going to stay here and do my job," Tillis told him. (Listen to the audio here, courtesy of Hinton.)

Asked why he entered the race now, as opposed to waiting until the end of session as he had planned earlier this year, Tillis said he wanted to make his desire clear and get extra time to campaign. But he said he wouldn't campaign actively until after the legislative session ends. Completing the legislative agenda, he said, is the top priority.

Morning Memo: Questions for Thom Tillis, McCrory wades into tax fight

THREE QUESTIONS FOR THOM TILLIS: House Speaker Thom Tillis' decision to formally enter the Senate race and challenge Democrat U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan is not a surprise. But the timing, coming before the end of the legislative session, when Tillis said in January he would make a decision, is noteworthy. Here are three more questions about the race:

1. How long will he remain speaker? Running for the U.S. Senate is no state legislative race. It's all consuming. Does Tillis think he can manage an unruly House that is to his ideological right while campaigning? The case for staying in office: it helps to control the purse strings when you are asking for money. His allied super PAC, by coincidence or not, debuted when the House received the budget from the Senate. The case for resigning: Why have everything the Rep. Brawley's of the world propose drag you into issue fights you don't want?

2. Who will challenge him from the right? Tillis' debuted his run with an AP interview in which he emphasized his ability to work across the aisle -- a common message, but rarely heard in the primary stage of a campaign when you are appealing the fieriest partisans of your party. But it underscores Tillis' moderate tendencies and how Tillis could easily face a big-name challenger who is considered more conservative. The field could get crowded -- and Tillis isn't polling well in GOP primary surveys because he's largely unknown, despite his powerful post.

3. What will Phil Berger do? The possibility that Senate leader Phil Berger could enter the race -- and move to Tillis' right -- would add a whole new dynamic to the Republican primary field as two legislative leaders govern the state by their future ambition. It sounds less likely that he will run but even if he doesn't run, Berger can exert considerable influence if Tillis remains in the legislature by steering legislation that forces him to take positions on issues he may rather avoid.

***Read more on Tillis' Senate bid and Gov. Pat McCrory's step into the tax debate for the first time -- all below in the Dome Morning Memo, the source for North Carolina political news and analysis. ***

Morning Memo: House begins budget writing

WILL THE STATE BUDGET FINISH IN TIME? As the House begins crafting its own state budget this week, the phrase "continuing resolution" is being heard more frequently in the hallways at the statehouse. The idea is this: with the Senate's budget delay, will the House finish writing its own in time to get it approved before the end of the fiscal year June 30? And if it gets close, and House and Senate budget writers are still deadlocked in conference, will they need to find an escape plan to keep government running? House budget writer Nelson Dollar dismissed the talk in an interview last week, but House Democrats are openly discussing the possibility. "I don't see how it's going to be avoided," said Rep. Mickey Michaux, a veteran Democrat. The state budget negotiations this year are complicated by House and Senate Republican leaders' attempts to imbed a tax overhaul that cuts government spending into the state budget, especially because the two chambers are so widely split on the issue.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: With money on the table, a strong lobbying presence is expected this week. A group of physicians will make the rounds Tuesday asking the House to put money in the state budget to pay for youth tobacco use prevention. House budget committees begin meeting at 8:30 a.m. Another House panel will consider the new school vouchers bill at 10 a.m. and a transportation committee will hear a ferry toll bill at noon. The House convenes at 1 p.m. but there are no bills on the calendar. The Senate convenes at 4 p.m. but will also hold a skeletal session with no action expected. Gov. Pat McCrory plays Mayor Pat again Tuesday morning in Charlotte, speaking to the local rotary club. Elsewhere, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan will honor military spouses at an even in Fayetteville.

***Read more Dome Morning Memo below to get a roundup of North Carolina political news from the holiday weekend. ***

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