Senate candidate and North Carolina state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) responded Thursday to Democratic attacks, saying he had fired staffers who had affairs with lobbyists.
Tillis accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) of "meddling" in his race's Republican primary after the Democratic group Senate Majority PAC released a TV ad Tuesday that focused on affairs between lobbyists and two former members of Tillis' staff.
Tillis' former chief of staff and roommate, Charles Thomas, as well as the speaker's former policy adviser, Amy Hobbs, resigned in 2012 after their relationships with lobbyists were revealed.
At the time, Democrats attacked Tillis as offering a taxpayer-funded "golden parachute" to the staffers in the form of $19,000 in severance pay, and Tillis defended his actions.
“I recognized that their jobs and careers were forever affected by their choices and that serious family obligations still existed for each of them," Tillis told The News & Observer in 2012. "I stand by my decision to accept their resignation while recognizing the difficult transition period they are now entering.”
Yet Tillis' campaign proposes a different narrative in an ad released Thursday.
"Seen those ads attacking Thom Tillis?" a narrator says. "They're false. Tillis fired the staffers. Know who's paying for those sleazy ads? It's Harry Reid."
North Carolina Democrats called foul, saying Tillis was obscuring the details of the scandal.
"Speaker Tillis is entitled to his own opinions, but he isn't entitled to his own facts," Forward NC spokesman Ben Ray said in a statement from the state Democrats' coordinated campaign. "The truth is, he gave two staffers nearly $20,000 in taxpayer money after they were caught having affairs with lobbyists and asked North Carolina to consider the 'human side' of their resignation when asked to explain why."
A Tillis campaign spokesman could not be reached for comment, but a News & Observer reporter tweeted Thursday that Tillis' campaign said, "The action initiated by Speaker Tillis resulted in the termination of their employment."
One of Tillis' primary opponents, obstetrician Greg Brannon, also referred to the scandal in a December fundraising email that criticized the speaker.
North Carolina's primary is set for May 6. A runoff will be necessary if no candidate reaches 40 percent of the vote. News outlets such as National Journal have suggested the Democratic super PAC's ad about the lobbyist scandal is meant to push Republican primary voters to vote for a candidate other than Tillis for moral reasons.