Attack ad accuses Republicans of not paying taxes, helping Democrats. What’s the truth?

An ad from an outside spending group calls two candidates running for North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District “two-faced RINOs” — Republicans in name only — for two very different reasons.

The American Foundations Committee ad criticizes attorney Kelly Daughtry for giving “thousands to woke Democrats.”

And the political action committee accuses Fred Von Canon, a veteran and businessman, of pleading guilty to not paying his income tax.

American Foundations Committee has a website touting the campaign for one of Daughtry and Von Canon’s opponents, Brad Knott, a former federal prosecutor. Two members of the Knott family, Joe and Thomas Knott, invested a combined $550,000 into the PAC in November and December, making up two-thirds of the donors for that quarter.

The ad is correct that Daughtry has donated money to Democrats, and Von Canon did plead guilty to not paying income tax in 2007, but the 30-second ad leaves little room for details.

And in a race with 14 Republicans vying for the party’s nomination on March 5, details matter.

Daughtry and Democrats

Daughtry, a Republican from Johnston County, is a lawyer practicing in a firm opened by her father, GOP former state Rep. Leo Daughtry.

The attack ad calls out Daughtry for giving Democrats “thousands” without providing the exact amount.

McClatchy found that since 1997, Daughtry donated $2,550 to Democrats and $44,312 to Republicans, according to Federal Election Commission and North Carolina State Board of Elections reports.

Specifically, she gave to the campaigns of five Democrats in the legal field, a practice that is not uncommon among lawyers. They include Attorney General Josh Stein, former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, former state Court of Appeals Justice Mark Davis, Judge Lori Christian and attorney Mark Bibbs. Davis received the most, with $1,250 in donations.

Only once did one of those campaigns face a Republican who was also in the legal field. That’s when Stein ran in 2020 against Republican District Attorney Jim O’Neill, of Forsyth County, who challenged Stein for his office.

And in 2014, when Daughtry donated to Bibbs, he ran for N.C. House against Jean Farmer-Butterfield, a nonprofit consultant and manager. Farmer-Butterfield won the Democratic primary and faced no Republican challenger for the general election.

Her contributions to Republicans include U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, former Gov. Pat McCrory, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger. Her contributions have stretched from local to federal leaders, and she’s given to her local and state Republican parties.

Daughtry did not answer an email requesting comment on why she chose to contribute to any of these campaigns.

Fred Von Canon’s guilty plea

In 2007, Von Canon faced a misdemeanor charge of failure to file or pay income taxes.

It’s not clear what Von Canon owed, but the government took out federal tax liens against Von Canon for two amounts: $252,944 and $105,055. Both have been dismissed after being paid in full.

Von Canon pleaded guilty to the charge.

The judge entered it as a prayer for judgment, CBS 17 first reported. A prayer for judgment is unique to North Carolina and often allows a defendant to escape consequences for a crime, though it can affect the punishment if the defendant gets in trouble later.

Von Canon sent out a video to his supporters explaining the attack ad.

“You probably heard I had unpaid taxes years ago,” Von Canon says into the camera. “And that’s true, but what they’re not sharing is that they were paid years ago, and I don’t owe the IRS a dime.”

Von Canon says in the video that in the years since then he has built several successful businesses and now provides income for over 100 North Carolina families.

“Fred’s story is one of triumph over hard times — rising from rags to riches in a true American Dream,” said Charles Hellwig, a campaign advisor for Von Canon, in a written statement to McClatchy. “He’s now leading in the polls so the candidates trailing him are attacking with mud they dredged up from years ago. He paid every penny back and owes no one anything — and he’s going to win on March 5th because voters know the difference between a conservative and a moderate and they know the difference between hard working anti-establishment outsiders and elite silver spooned insiders who will say and do anything to try and win.”

This ad wasn’t the first time that Von Canon’s guilty plea has been used against him. In the 2022 elections for state House, Rep. Terence Everitt attacked him in a flyer. But Von Canon said Everett stretched the allegations and sent his opponent a cease-and-desist demand.

NC Reality Check is an N&O series holding those in power accountable and shining a light on public issues that affect the Triangle or North Carolina. Have a suggestion for a future story? Email