Opinion: CJ Opinion

State Senate Candidate who lost election, forced to pay opponents thousands to settle lawsuit

Image courtesy of VectorOpenStock.com
Image courtesy of VectorOpenStock.com

Campaign finance documents released this week show that Democrat state Senate candidate JD Wooten was forced to pay $10,000 to Republicans in a lawsuit originally filed by Wooten himself.

During his campaign for State Senate District 24 in 2020, Republican Amy Galey defeated Wooten 53-47  after Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, didn’t seek re-election. The failed race is continuing to cost Wooten long after the race was over.

In October of 2020, CJ reported Wooten faced an ethics complaint for failing to disclose rental income.

The State Board of Ethics complaint, filed by former State Elections and Ethics Enforcement Board member John Lewis on Oct. 16, noted that the Statement of Economic Interest Wooten, a lawyer, filed when he became a candidate for office didn’t disclose rental income from houses he owns.

Carolina Journal also raised questions about whether Wooten actually lived in District 24. Wooten had rented two houses he owns in Greensboro since 2016. He also has used three other Guilford County addresses as his residence.

As reported by Don Carrington in August 2020, Wooten, an Air Force veteran, used a Veterans Affairs-backed loan in 2019 to buy a house outside Senate District 24, drawing scrutiny for possibly violating the terms of the loan. The deed of trust for the property said the house must be his principal residence for at least a year “unless extenuating circumstances exist which are beyond Borrower’s control.”

Wooten admitted he rented the house to a tenant. The deed of trust Wooten signed required that he occupy the residence for a year, but Wooten moved out about eight months later.

As reported by the News and Observer:

Wooten’s Republican opponent, Amy Galey sent a mailer in late July accusing Wooten of committing fraud on his VA mortgage loan. In response, Wooten’s campaign sent a cease-and-desist letter, saying the statements were defamatory.

Senate Republicans indicated at the time, the attacks were accurate and pledged to has continued the campaign with the same attacks.

On September 15th 2020, the North Carolina Democratic Party issued a press release announcing that JD Wooten filed against his opponent, Amy Galey, and the North Carolina Senate (Republican) Majority Fund, claiming defamation.

“Today, JD Wooten filed a lawsuit against Amy Galey, the NC Senate Majority Fund, and their Independent Expenditure allies “Citizens for a Better NC Senate” for defamation and violations of NC election law,” the released announced, providing a copy of the lawsuit.

The release points to the veteran’s loan issue as the basis for the lawsuit.

Wooten released the following statement after the lawsuit was filed:

“I am disappointed that Ms. Galey has resorted to brazen lies to win an election.  I know we have our policy differences, but I believed she had the integrity and strength of character to focus on the pressing issues facing hard-working North Carolinians.  Instead, she has resorted to an unlawful, defamatory smear campaign to distract from these pressing issues,” Wooten said in the statement.

But campaign finance filings now show that the N.C. Senate Majority Fund, a Republican Senate campaign account received $10,000 in “outside sources of income” a rarely used designation indicating legally obtained proceeds that were not a campaign donation. This listing further clarifies that Wooten personally paid Senate Republicans $10,000 as part of a legal settlement.

While Wooten’s lawsuit against Republicans was not successful, it appears that the Republicans countersuit was.

Dylan Watts, Political Director Senate Republicans confirmed the settlement to CJ.

“The matter has been settled to the satisfaction of both sides,” said  Watts.

Despite a floundering Wooten campaign that was under a brutal assault from Watts and the Republican Senate campaign team, state Democrats had high hopes for Wooten, and poured in well over a million dollars into his race, not to mention untold resources to assist with a fruitless and baseless lawsuit against republicans.

But Wooten could never answer the charges against him, and the well-sourced line of attacks took its toll. He lost what was expected to be a razor-close race by 5%, or 5,678 votes, a large Republican victory in one of the most critical State Senate races of 2020.  Then Wooten had to pay N.C. Republicans $10,000 out of his own pocket.

State Democrats are undoubtedly hoping for a better candidate in 2022. Hard to see them not meeting that goal after the Dems District 24 Disaster of 2020.