It began with a campaign that touched a nerve.
The Carolina Stompers is a group of Buncombe County Republicans who are bent on “stomping liberals.” A registered corporation, it was started by Chad Nesbitt, stepson of Asheville’s Democratic state Sen. Martin Nesbitt. Nesbitt (the Stomper, not the senator) planned a protest last week against the state’s Democratic party because of the name of its annual Vance-Aycock fundraising dinner. Former N.C. Gov. Charles Brantley Aycock, for whom the event was named, was—“progressive” politics aside—a white supremacist. His racist rhetoric helped incite a murderous riot by white mobs in Wilmington in 1898 that both terrorized local blacks and overthrew local democracy.
“It’s just a slap in the face to minorities out here,” says Nesbitt. While the Stomper’s advertisements criticize Aycock exclusively, Nesbitt does add that the late Zebulon Vance “wasn’t that good of a person, either. And as a matter of fact, there are several Republicans that have some history about them as well.”
Dredging up the ugly past must have caused someone in Raleigh to shudder, as the public response of at least one Democrat was something to the effect of “good point.” State Treasurer Richard Moore, who plans to run for governor next year, is now urging the party to change the name of the dinner, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. “I can no longer defend naming a Democratic Party dinner after Gov. Aycock,” Moore was quoted as saying. “The tactics Aycock embraced—fear, hatred, and voter intimidation at the hands of a band of ‘red shirts’—must be acknowledged and repudiated.”
The Stompers have since trumpeted victory. “We consider that a huge win,” says Nesbitt. “We predict they will change the name, and that’s why we cancelled the protest.”
The Stompers Web site (www.carolinastompers.com) now features a congratulatory word from Frances Rice, chair of the National Black Republican Association. (That same group drew the ire of black Democrats last year with a radio ad featuring the claim that Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican.)
But the fracas over the dinner was just round one. Since then, state Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Meek—who the Stompers took aim at in a critical YouTube film—has grown skeptical. Meek filed a campaign-finance complaint Sept. 26 against the Stompers, prompting the state Board of Elections to investigate whether they should be registered as a political committee.
“Who’s supporting this group, and why aren’t they obeying the law like every other political organization has to?” Meek wanted to know. State law requires any group that supports political candidates and spends money to register as a political committee.
The group’s member rankings include “Super Stompers,” who pay an annual fee of $35, “Ultra Stompers,” who pay $100, and “Mega Stompers,” who pay a whopping $500, according to the Stompers Web site, which also endorses various Republican candidates.
But the Carolina Stompers is a corporation in the business of “advertising opinions” and not a political committee, Nesbitt asserts. “We promote conservative opinions … and when that happens, nine times out of 10, people will give to candidates. But at no time does any funds come from a Carolina Stomper’s hands to a candidate’s hands,” he explains.
“I went down to the [Buncombe County] Board of Elections today with our checkbook and so forth and I told ‘em—I said, here you go,” Nesbitt adds. “Take a look at everything we’ve spent. And so far, we’re OK.”