At least 21 candidates used Dowless, Red Dome over last decade

Campaigns on both sides of the political aisle have utilized Dowless' services since 2008.

At least 21 candidates used Dowless, Red Dome over last decade

SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - As early as April 2008, Leslie McCrae Dowless was active in Bladen County politics.

Dowless, who is the central figure in the North Carolina State Board of Elections investigation into alleged election fraud in the 9th Congressional District, worked for Democrat Wilbur Smith’s campaign for Bladen County Board of Elections, District 2.

Over the following decade, Dowless worked for 11 other candidates either on his own or through Politico Management Services or Patriots for Progress, two organizations he helped found. In June 2017, he began working as a contractor for Red Dome Group, another party involved in the NCSBE investigation which was paid by an additional 10 candidates.

These candidates, whose constituencies cover Bladen County, Columbus County, Pender County, Brunswick County and New Hanover County, all listed Dowless, Red Dome, Politico Management Services or Patriots for Progress on their official campaign finance reports.

Those reports included “purposes” for the campaign’s payment. Comments from candidates, if WECT was able to reach them, are below.

McCrae Dowless

Wilbur Smith (D) - Board of Education, District 2 - 2008

  • Payment: $800
  • Reason: Campaign funding
  • Election Result: Won

Eric Bryan (D) - Bladen County Sheriff - 2010

  • Payment: $775
  • Reason: Salaries
  • Election Result: Lost in runoff

Niki Dennis (D) - Clerk of Superior Court - 2010

  • Payment: $175
  • Reason: Gas and transportation
  • Election Result: Won

Butch Pope (D) - District Attorney - 2010

  • Payment: $7,127
  • Reason: Get out the vote; signs
  • Election Result: Won the primary, lost in the general election

Wesley Meredith (R) - NC Senate - 2010

  • Payment: $375
  • Reason: Get out the vote
  • Election Result: Lost

Al Leonard (D) - NC House - 2012

  • Payment: $1,500
  • Reason: Get out the vote
  • Election Result: Lost in primary

Ken Waddell (D) - NC House - 2012

  • Payment: $6,825
  • Reason: Campaign manager; Get out the vote
  • Election Result: Lost

Bill Rabon (R) - NC Senate - 2014

  • Payment: $6,500 to Politico Management Services
  • Reason:  Poll workers
  • Election Result: Won

James McVicker (R) - Bladen County Sheriff - 2014/2018

  • Payment: $8,800
  • Reason: Get out the vote
  • Election Result: Won

Ashley Trivette (R) - Bladen County Commission - 2016

  • Payment: $4,750
  • Reason: Get out the vote and Patriots for Progress
  • Election Result: Won

Billy Ray Britt (R) - Bladen County Commission - 2016

  • Payment: $500
  • Reason: Get out the vote
  • Election Result: Won

Red Dome Group

Brenden Jones (R) - NC House - 2014/2018

  • Payment: $5,183
  • Reason: 2014-Robo calls to get out the vote; 2018-Campaign materials and absentee program
  • Election Result: Won

James McVicker (R) - Bladen County Sheriff - 2014/2016

  • Payment: $8,000
  • Reason: Get out the vote
  • Election Result: Won

Tammy Covil (R) - NC House - 2016

  • Payment: $7,000
  • Reason: Consulting
  • Election Result: Lost

Frank Iler - NC House - 2016/2018

  • Payment: $45,574
  • Reason: Consulting, social media, post cards, mailers
  • Election Result: Won

Mark Harris (R) - US House - 2018

  • Payment: $438,908
  • Reason: Get out the vote, social media, consulting
  • Election Result: Undecided

Ted Davis (R) - NC House - 2018

  • Payment: $3,750
  • Reason: Social media
  • Election Result: Won

Carson Smith (R) - NC House - 2018

  • Payment: $8,876
  • Reason: Political consulting, webpage design, printing, postage
  • Election Result: Won

Jody Greene (R) - Columbus County Sheriff - 2018

  • Payment: $4,300
  • Reason: Consulting
  • Election Result: Won by 37 votes

Sandra Alice Ray (R) - NC Court of Appeals - 2018

  • Payment: $1,500
  • Reason: Business cards and racks
  • Election Result: Lost

Brunswick REC (R) (Political Action Committee) - 2016

  • Payment: $7,600
  • Reason: Digital advertisement
  • Election Result: N/A

Responses from candidates

Voicemail messages and emails to several candidates were not returned at the time this story was published. Those candidates included Carson Smith, Ken Waddell, Wesley Meredith, William Brisson, Wilbur Smith, Ashley Trivette, Ray Britt and Niki Dennis.

WECT also tried to contact Red Dome Group, but received no response.

A few candidates did answer or return calls Monday.

Frank Iler said he contracted Red Dome after recommendations from others in his party.

“I always found them to be straight up and honest with me,” he said in a phone interview Monday. He said the bulk of their work was done on his social media and digital presence as well as for mailed postcards, which he said are expensive and made up a large portion of his payments. He said he has invoices to match each campaign disbursement, where the bill matches the purpose listed on his finance documents.

Ted Davis said the firm also helped him with his social media, and that he has no concerns about their activity on behalf of his campaign. He said he has “great respect” for Yates and the other Red Dome staff.

Butch Pope said it’s been a long time since he has spoken with Dowless, given that his campaign was eight years ago. He said he was a political newcomer in 2009 when he decided to run, and was told Dowless was the person he should contact in Bladen County.

Pope said he doesn’t recall any conversations about absentee ballots, and that Dowless primarily worked to distribute signs for his campaign.

Carson Smith, who is set to take office next month, said in a phone call he only worked with Andy Yates and another Red Dome contractor Carolyn Justice, and doesn’t know Dowless.

“That’s who I worked with” he said.

Smith said he has no concerns about Red Dome’s activity for his campaign, but that should evidence come out that the firm did something unsavory, he would reconsider using them for a future campaign.

Tuesday morning, Ashley Trivette responded to a reporter and said she takes full responsibility for campaign expenditures, but did not know Dowless was so involved in her campaign.

“I was actively involved in running for office during 2016, others around me managed the finances for my campaign,” she said.

Trivette said she never had a conversation with Dowless about absentee ballots, and that she is concerned about the investigation.

“The recent revelation that there has possibly been fraud in the absentee ballot process is very concerning to me,” she said.

[WECT will update this story with more responses as they become available.]

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