Contractor says NC candidate racked up debts and ‘intended not to pay.’ Will that change?

Congressional candidate Bo Hines owes nine companies nearly $500,000 for work on his 2022 campaign, even as he runs in a new district in 2024.

And after talking to McClatchy on Thursday afternoon, one company official says his firm received an acknowledgment from Hines’ team that it’s owed money Thursday, along with an offer to pay.

As of 3:45 p.m. on Friday, nothing had been paid.

Hines’ campaign told McClatchy in a written statement that it’s committed to resolving all debt expediently.

Hines, 28, a Republican who flirted with running in multiple North Carolina congressional districts in the 2022 campaign before deciding to run in the Triangle-based 13th district, lost to Rep. Wiley Nickel, a Democrat. In the 2024 cycle, Hines decided to switch districts and run in the Triad’s 6th district against five other Republicans including former Rep. Mark Walker, Trump-endorsed former lobbyist Addison McDowell, and former High Point Mayor Jay Wagner.

“All of this information is public record,” a spokesperson for Hines’ campaign said in a written statement, “and is only relevant now because other candidates in NC-6 are nervous because Bo is the clear frontrunner.”

Contractor says Hines campaign offered to pay this week

Jonathan Duke, vice president of Deep Root Analytics, told McClatchy in a written statement that in 2022 his company contracted with Hines’ campaign to provide earned media measurements, a tool used to track how public relations and marketing is impacting a candidate. He said his company fulfilled its contractual obligations that included a dashboard of weekly reports.

“At multiple times throughout the general election we sent invoices to the Hines campaign for payment,” Duke said. “Those invoices were never fulfilled. Post election, the General Consultant informed us that Hines intended not to pay. In fact, the GC felt so bad about it that he paid us one-quarter the total amount owed out of his own pocket.”

Duke clarified this did not count toward the debt owed.

The general consultant is a top strategist overseeing a campaign’s spending. In Hines’ case, Hines’ campaign manager served in this role.

Duke said that in 2023, when Hines announced his 2024 campaign, Duke’s company followed up to settle the debt. Federal Election Commission reports show that Hines owes Deep Root $7,500, the second-smallest amount Hines owes a company.

“The response we received was an accusation that we did not provide these services thus negating the contract,” Duke said. “I provided screenshots of the dashboard, and the emails that we sent on a weekly basis. Regardless, they remained obstinate and refused to pay the debt or event negotiate a reasonable settlement.”

“It wasn’t until this story was being written that the Hines campaign acknowledged their debt and offered to pay,” he added.

Hines’ campaign declined to comment on Duke’s specific claims.

Companies owed money

McClatchy received two phone calls in two weeks from companies frustrated with Hines’ campaign for failing to pay its debts. The second company official declined to be quoted by name about Hines’ debt because of ongoing negotiations.

Besides Deep Root, Hines owes these other eight companies:

  • Tag LLC: $243,030

  • Majority Strategies LLC: $112,909

  • The Strategy Group for Media Inc: $29,305

  • The Whillier Group: $19,181

  • RTA Strategy LLC: $19,133

  • Printing Trade Co.: $12,310

  • Hammond & Associates: $7,600

  • Elections LLC: $5,835

But Hines’ full debt obligation is more than $1.9 million due to money he loaned his own campaign.

Hines has not submitted a Financial Disclosure Form to the House Ethics Clerk for the 2024 election, but according to his 2022 report, his only reported income was $12,000 for working for his mother’s design firm and his only reported asset was an undisclosed amount of money in a blind trust.

What happens to campaigns with debt?

“It is not uncommon at all for a campaign to have outstanding debt, especially after running a highly competitive general race in the previous election cycle,” a spokesman for Hines’ campaign said.

Brett Kappel, an attorney with Harmon Curran and an expert on campaign finance, lobbying and government ethics laws, confirmed that candidates can carry debt for decades after they lose an election. But it’s unusual for a candidate to carry debt and then decide to immediately run again.

He said when they do, they normally pay vendors what they owe from the first election. Those the campaign fails to pay, often refuse to work with them again.

Hines continued working with Elections LLC for legal services and RTA Strategies for “compliance consulting treasury disclosure reporting.” The latter also received payments toward the debt Hines owed.

But Kappel added that there are few ramifications for campaigns who carry debt other than being forced to keep their campaign committee open.

“Vendors in the campaign finance space, sort of take a couple of different approaches,” Kappel said, of handling outstanding debt. “They’re artisans themselves and they realize they’re going to lose money on some of these campaign and they’re usually OK with that. Others are like, ‘Hey, I’m suing you,’ and then that usually doesn’t work.”

Kappel said the lawsuit rarely works, because unlike in Hines’ case, the candidate makes a case that he couldn’t raise enough money to win his election, and therefore doesn’t have the ability to raise money to pay back the vendor.

Kappel said the favorite approach is for the companies to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission to pressure the campaign to pay. But usually, Kappel said, the FEC dismisses the case.

Kappel said campaigns sometimes try to show the FEC that they don’t have the ability to pay off their debts and try to get a settlement plan approved. But he said often this happens many years after the candidate ran for office.

North Carolina’s primary takes place Tuesday. Whoever wins the Republican primary in the 6th district will likely represent the Triad in Congress as no Democrat is running.