MOUNT AIRY, N.C. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump's endorsement has Rep. Ted Budd playing defense in North Carolina's GOP Senate primary, as opponents accuse him of benefiting from a bankruptcy that cost farmers millions and being beholden to a conservative political action committee.
Ex-Gov. Pat McCrory and former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker have targeted Budd for criticism in the race to replace outgoing Republican Sen. Richard Burr.
McCrory argues Democrats would have ample lines of attack on an opponent he views as less electable. Walker, meanwhile, is competing for the Trump base and positioning himself as the candidate least subject to the demands of outside interest groups.
Some of the criticism leveled at Budd centers on the 2000 bankruptcy of an agricultural company led by his father that, according to federal documents, led to hundreds of farmers around the country not receiving the full amount they were owed for millions of dollars in seed.
A document Budd's campaign provided to The Associated Press shows Budd was listed among several family members as a “borrower” on a $10 million short-term loan Budd's father provided to the company, AgriBioTech. Months after the company paid the loan back to Budd's father, it declared bankruptcy, leaving many farmers unable to recoup all their losses.
In his most extensive comments yet on the bankruptcy, the congressman told the AP in an interview at a Mount Airy event that he did not have an operational role within AgriBioTech and did not personally receive any assets that would have otherwise gone to farmers.
“I was on the outside looking in and just wanted to help the family at the time,” Budd said. “We took the best legal advice we could at the time. It’s a tough situation when you try to help others. It’s kind of a good Samaritan case where you help and make it better, but it’s not as good as it should have been. You never want anybody to go through what anybody did in that case. It was a tough deal all around.”
Jonathan Felts, a senior advisor to the Budd campaign, said that while the congressman unloaded delivery trucks as late as 1994 for Budd Seed, one of 34 companies that AgriBioTech bought four years later, he never worked at AgriBioTech.
In a separate one-on-one interview at the same Mount Airy event, McCrory attacked Budd over the loan he helped his father secure, which was first reported by The Washington Post.
McCrory said Budd and his father "ripped off a lot of farmers in tens of millions of dollars. They tried to hide money. That’s called fraud.”
Richard Budd, Ted's father, responded in a statement saying that his family lost money they invested in the company.
“I’m not sure what the former governor is referring to,” he wrote, adding, "The bank made some money off that deal, but I did not. I did my best to save ABT, but, in this case, my best was not enough.”
Walker, a former Greensboro-area congressman also aligned with Trump, accused Budd of being too cozy with Club for Growth Action, a Washington, D.C. political action committee that plans to spend at least $10 million to boost Budd. The group has already put in $3 million to attack McCrory and make Republicans aware of Trump’s endorsement.
“Unlike one of my other candidates, I don’t have a D.C. Super PAC underwriting my campaign,” Walker said.
Ted Budd said Club for Growth's spending reflects how his policy views resonate with people.
“Look, I can’t coordinate with them legally, so that’s up to them,” Budd said. “They interviewed me in 2016. They asked me a lot of hard questions. They wanted to know what I believed in. It’s not me working to get the donations. It’s me being who I am, and, outside groups, some folks like that.”
Doug Heye, a North Carolina native and former Republican National Committee communications director who considers the primary wide open, said any of the candidates would have gladly accepted the money.
“Any candidate who doesn’t get that kind of support is going to be critical of it, but they’d all take it,” Heye said. “That’s just the political reality.”
Marjorie K. Eastman, a military veteran and Cary mother of one who entered the GOP primary Tuesday, plans to distinguish herself as a political outsider. Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and state Sen. Jeff Jackson are the leading Democratic candidates.
Budd called Trump's endorsement “hugely helpful" and urged voters to look past any personality concerns they might have about the former president.
“People have got to figure out what they want (and) if they like those America-strong policies," Budd said. "If they like America weak and chaotic, well, they’ve got other choices.”
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Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.