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Prominent GOP donors help CHCCS board candidate substantially outraise competitors

Meredith Pruitt headshot.jpg
Meredith Pruitt is a candidate for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education. Photo courtesy of Meredith Pruitt.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education candidate Meredith Pruitt is substantially outraising her opponents in the upcoming Nov. 2 election.

According to the 35-day financial disclosure report that was first filed in September, Pruitt, who is a registered Republican, has raised about $14,000 for her campaign — nearly seven times greater than the next-highest fundraiser.

Riza Jenkins raised about $2,100, and George Griffin raised about $1,000. The three other candidates in the race did not file a report. Candidates receiving less than $1,000 are not required to file a report.

Jason Roberts, a professor of political science at UNC, said that for municipal elections, the methods candidates use to raise money can vary.

“Typically, what most people do is they raise money from their friends and family,” Roberts said. “If you have a candidate who maybe is not from this area and hasn’t spent their whole life in this area, they may have family and connections in other places.”

Karen Herpel, a parent of three children in the district, said in an email that she was concerned about the influence of some of Pruitt's Republican donors, including John Preyer, Lauren Maddox and Margaret Spellings.

"I thought that people running for office should be transparent about their campaign and who their supporters are,” Herpel said.

Preyer, the vice chairperson of the UNC Board of Trustees, is one of Pruitt’s biggest donors, giving $1,000 to her campaign.

“I’d like to see better governance and leadership in Chapel Hill on all things ranging from the Town Council to the school board,” Preyer said.

Preyer is a prominent Republican donor who has cast some controversial votes during his time on the Board. In June, he voted against approving tenure for Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of The 1619 Project, whose work focuses on racial injustice. In July 2020, Preyer voted against renaming four campus buildings named for white supremacists, instead advocating for the University to establish a day of forgiveness for those individuals — a request that was denied.

Preyer declined to comment on the tenure vote and the building renaming.

Maddox is from Virginia and one of several out-of-state donors to Pruitt's campaign. She served on Donald Trump’s transition team, was an assistant secretary in the Department of Education during the George W. Bush administration and also served in senior roles for several Republican congressmen. 

Maddox is also a frequent Republican donor. She did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Spellings, another out-of-state donor, is a former UNC-System president and was the secretary of education under the Bush administration.

As System president, Spellings received backlash for her handling of Silent Sam. After students toppled the Confederate monument in 2018, she called it “unacceptable, dangerous, and incomprehensible" in a statement.

Leyla Stambaugh, a child psychologist at Research Triangle Institute and a Chapel Hill resident, is another donor to Pruitt’s campaign. She described herself as a "liberal voter" and said in an email that she is not concerned about some of Pruitt’s donors. 

“I think focusing on a couple of out-of-state donors is unfair,” Stambaugh said in the email. “(Pruitt) has worked for the Department of Education and in a high profile position at UNC, so it is not surprising that Pruitt would have friends in high places who want to support her campaign.”

Pruitt said in an email that her donations are a reflection of support for her "different perspective."

“I have received donations from individuals across the political spectrum,” Pruitt said in an email. “What I heard from those donors and so many in our community — through their guidance, volunteer support and time — is that we can all agree education is a bipartisan issue, and we want all students to have the opportunity to achieve.”  

Pruitt cited her friendships and connections throughout her career, including her service in the federal government, as a source of these donations.

“I hope and trust that those friends and former colleagues who donated to my campaign did so because they believe in my ability to lead and to advocate for all students,” Pruitt said. 

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