Non-profit

Piedmont Rising

Website:

www.piedmontrising.org

Location:

Philadelphia, PA

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(4)

Type:

Election Advocacy Group

Piedmont Rising is a left-of-center funding and advocacy organization that has received substantial funding from the left-wing Sixteen Thirty Fund. Though Piedmont Rising was active in North Carolina’s 2020 U.S. Senate elections, it is headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Piedmont Rising spent over $2 million in the 2020 election cycle to oppose the reelection campaign of U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC). [1]

Piedmont Rising has been criticized for its deceptive advertising tactics. Piedmont Rising ran a televised advertising attacking Sen. Tillis on healthcare issues that mimicked a breaking television news report and was criticized as “deceptive” to viewers who could believe the advertisement was an actual news report. The advertisement further directed viewers to visit the North Carolina Examiner website for more information. [2]

Piedmont Rising set up the North Carolina Examiner to resemble a real news organization, while running stories favorable to left-of-center policies and Democratic officials. [3] Piedmont Rising spent over $100,000 on Facebook advertisements to give the Examiner the appearance of a real news organization. [4]  North Carolina Examiner was linked to a larger fake news scandal in which national left-of-center dark money organization ACRONYM funded Courier Newsroom. Courier Newsroom built a number of sites masquerading as local news organizations to push support for Democratic candidates and left-of-center initiatives in fourteen states around the country. [5]

2020 Election Spending

Piedmont Rising was founded in 2019 and is led by Casey Wilkinson, the former director of the North Carolina House Democratic Caucus. [6] The organization’s advisory board includes a number of left-of-center organizations, including Planned Parenthood Votes – South Atlantic, Si a Las Licencias NC, Progress NC, Charlotte Reproductive Action Network, and Stronger NC OBX. [7] Piedmont Rising also received $1.75 million from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a left-wing “dark money” organization. [8]

Piedmont Rising organized several television advertising campaigns during the 2020 election cycle. Most of Piedmont Rising’s advertisements focused on attacking Sen. Tillis on healthcare and abortion issues. In September of 2020, following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Piedmont Rising ran an advertisement attacking Sen. Tillis for supporting the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, claiming that Justice Barrett would “vote to overturn our healthcare.” [9] Just in opposing Justice Barrett’s appointment, Piedmont Rising spent over $2 million on advertisements attacking Sen. Tillis. [10] Piedmont Rising representatives have also accused Sen. Tillis and Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) of playing “political games” and of having “repeatedly voted to put health care out of reach” for people in North Carolina by opposing the Affordable Care Act and opposing Medicare expansion. [11] [12]

In July of 2020, Piedmont Rising joined a left-of-center Latino activist organization, Poder NC, in attacking Sen. Tillis as a racist for claiming that individuals in Hispanic communities experienced higher rates of COVID-19 infections due to less mask wearing and social distancing in those communities. [13]

Aside from running televised advertisements, Piedmont Rising hired North Carolina Instagram influencers to share healthcare “stories” in order to shift public opinion in favor of Democratic candidates in advance of the 2020 U.S. Senate election in North Carolina. [14]

Fake News Controversy

In 2020, Piedmont Rising came under fire for setting up a website designed to look like a news outlet that ran advertisements and campaigns critical of Sen. Tillis and other right-of-center policies and officials. Piedmont Rising set up a website called the “North Carolina Examiner.” The site appears to be a local news outlet that focuses on healthcare issues, but local North Carolina television station WRAL conducted a report which claimed that the site was “deceptive” and provided political stories “disconnected from any additional context.” [15] Piedmont Rising created the site in July 2019 and projected to raise more than $3 million through the site in its first six months. [16] As of July 2020, Piedmont Rising spent more than $118,000 on Facebook ads to portray North Carolina Examiner as a real news outlet. [17]

The site frequently ran stories criticizing right-of-center policies without disclosing conflicts of interests between their reporters and the organizations they were criticizing. One 2020 story included Kim Mackey arguing that schools should not reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic and criticizing the North Carolina legislature without disclosing that Mackey was a member of the North Carolina Association of Educators, an affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA), and a member of Red4Ed, an NEA-affiliated protest organization. [18]

Piedmont Rising also ran a controversial televised advertisement against Sen. Tillis that appeared to be a news report under the North Carolina Examiner banner. [19] The advertisement began with a woman appearing behind a news desk emblazoned with “North Carolina Examiner,” claiming to report “breaking news” at the beginning of the advertisement without identifying herself or her affiliations. The advertisement criticizes Sen. Tillis for considering blocking a congressional measure to lower drug prices and directs viewers to visit the Examiner website. [20] The advertisement immediately drew criticism as “deceptive” for misleading viewers into believing they were watching a breaking news report. Some of Piedmont Rising’s advisory board members, including professor of media studies Chuck Tyron, expressed discomfort with the advertisement’s misleading tactics, and Tyron resigned from the advisory board after the advertisement aired. [21]

North Carolina Examiner was linked to a larger fake news scandal in which national left-of-center dark money organization ACRONYM funded Courier Newsroom, an organization that built a number of sites masquerading as local news organizations to push support for Democratic candidates and left-of-center initiatives in fourteen states around the country. [22] Courier Newsroom’s North Carolina affiliate, Cardinal & Pine, published several stories that linked to Piedmont Rising as an authority on healthcare issues to target Sen. Tillis. [23]

References

  1. Miller , Eliana. “Political Ads Bombard Airwaves in Battle over Supreme Court.” OpenSecrets News, October 2, 2020. https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2020/10/supreme-court-vacancy-acb/. ^
  2. Specht, Paul. “’Deceptive’ or Helpful? Liberal Group’s Ad Looks like TV News.” WRAL.com. WRAL, February 24, 2020. https://www.wral.com/deceptive-or-helpful-liberal-group-s-ad-looks-like-tv-news/18972654/. ^
  3. North State Journal Jaff. “Dark Money Funded Political Activism Masquerades as Journalism.” The North State Journal, July 22, 2020. https://nsjonline.com/article/2020/07/dark-money-funded-political-activism-masquerades-as-journalism/. ^
  4. North State Journal Jaff. “Dark Money Funded Political Activism Masquerades as Journalism.” The North State Journal, July 22, 2020. https://nsjonline.com/article/2020/07/dark-money-funded-political-activism-masquerades-as-journalism/. ^
  5. North State Journal Jaff. “Dark Money Funded Political Activism Masquerades as Journalism.” The North State Journal, July 22, 2020. https://nsjonline.com/article/2020/07/dark-money-funded-political-activism-masquerades-as-journalism/. ^
  6. North State Journal Jaff. “Dark Money Funded Political Activism Masquerades as Journalism.” The North State Journal, July 22, 2020. https://nsjonline.com/article/2020/07/dark-money-funded-political-activism-masquerades-as-journalism/. ^
  7.             “Piedmont Rising”. 2021. Piedmont Rising. Accessed January 4. https://www.piedmontrising.org/. ^
  8. Bland, Scott. “Liberal Dark-Money Behemoth Raised Nearly $140M Last Year.” POLITICO. POLITICO, November 20, 2020. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/11/20/liberal-dark-money-fundraising-438667. ^
  9. Robillard, Kevin. “Democrats Have A Leg Up In The Political Fight Over Amy Coney Barrett.” HuffPost, September 28, 2020. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/democrats-have-a-leg-up-in-the-political-fight-over-amy-coney-barrett_n_5f70c99cc5b61af20e773446. ^
  10. Miller, Eliana. “Political Ads Bombard Airwaves in Battle over Supreme Court.” OpenSecrets News, October 2, 2020. https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2020/10/supreme-court-vacancy-acb/. ^
  11. Craver, Richard. “Newly Unemployed Have Health Insurance Options, but Must Act Quickly.” Winston-Salem Journal, April 12, 2020. https://journalnow.com/news/local/newly-unemployed-have-health-insurance-options-but-must-act-quickly/article_dba20e6f-a448-5e53-8cc6-b4eec150380e.html. ^
  12. Grzeszczak, Jocelyn. “GOP Senator’s Staffer Tells Cancer Survivor Who Can’t Afford Health Insurance to ‘Figure It out.’” Newsweek. Newsweek, September 9, 2020. https://www.newsweek.com/gop-senators-staffer-tells-cancer-survivor-who-cant-afford-health-insurance-figure-it-out-1530704. ^
  13.     McDonald, Thomasi. 2020. “Latino Leaders Take Thom Tillis To Task For Misinformed, Racist Comments On The Coronavirus”. Indyweek. https://indyweek.com/news/northcarolina/latino-leaders-thom-tillis-coronavirus/. ^
  14. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-influencers-idUSKBN2042M2 ^
  15. North State Journal Jaff. “Dark Money Funded Political Activism Masquerades as Journalism.” The North State Journal, July 22, 2020. https://nsjonline.com/article/2020/07/dark-money-funded-political-activism-masquerades-as-journalism/. ^
  16. https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2020/05/dark-money-networks-fake-news-sites/ ^
  17. North State Journal Jaff. “Dark Money Funded Political Activism Masquerades as Journalism.” The North State Journal, July 22, 2020. https://nsjonline.com/article/2020/07/dark-money-funded-political-activism-masquerades-as-journalism/. ^
  18. North State Journal Jaff. “Dark Money Funded Political Activism Masquerades as Journalism.” The North State Journal, July 22, 2020. https://nsjonline.com/article/2020/07/dark-money-funded-political-activism-masquerades-as-journalism/. ^
  19. https://mcdowellnews.com/opinion/column-nc-is-a-target-for-information-and-disinformation/article_37a8c8f8-7927-543e-8ef5-57a5b87bde7c.html ^
  20. Specht, Paul. “’Deceptive’ or Helpful? Liberal Group’s Ad Looks like TV News.” WRAL.com. WRAL, February 24, 2020. https://www.wral.com/deceptive-or-helpful-liberal-group-s-ad-looks-like-tv-news/18972654/. ^
  21. Specht, Paul. “’Deceptive’ or Helpful? Liberal Group’s Ad Looks like TV News.” WRAL.com. WRAL, February 24, 2020. https://www.wral.com/deceptive-or-helpful-liberal-group-s-ad-looks-like-tv-news/18972654/ ^
  22. North State Journal Jaff. “Dark Money Funded Political Activism Masquerades as Journalism.” The North State Journal, July 22, 2020. https://nsjonline.com/article/2020/07/dark-money-funded-political-activism-masquerades-as-journalism/. ^
  23. North State Journal Jaff. “Dark Money Funded Political Activism Masquerades as Journalism.” The North State Journal, July 22, 2020. https://nsjonline.com/article/2020/07/dark-money-funded-political-activism-masquerades-as-journalism/. ^
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Piedmont Rising

1401 SPRUCE STREET
No. 1511
Philadelphia, PA 19102