State Senator Fletcher Hartsell and State Representative Jeff Barnhart, both Cabarrus County Republicans, last week set up a non-profit corporation called “Real Debate.org, Inc.”. Only Hartsell’s name appears on the corporate filing but Barnhart is listed on a parallel filing last week with the IRS establishing “Real Debate.org, Inc.” as a 527 Political Committee along with Wilmington millionaire Fred Eshelman. All three are listed as Directors. Eshelman is additionally listed as President. Hartsell is additionally listed as Secretary and Treasurer. There is no activity at the domain realebate.org and no information about the registrant in domain records.
Hartsell, a 9 term Senator, and Barnhart, a 4 term Representative, have been knee deep in financial incentives and appropriations for the redevelopment of the former Pillowtex site at Kannapolis known as the North Carolina Research Campus. Last year, with others, they formed another non-profit called “Alliance for Tomorrow” to support development at the site. The group has achieved notoriety for advocating for the use of Tax Increment Financing for the project and because its own source of funding is unknown.
Fred Eshelman is a former Glaxo executive who runs Pharmaceutical Product Development Inc. a Wilmington company with over 10,000 employees in 30 countries that manages clinical trials for pharmaceuticals, biotech and medical devices. Eshelman has donated $33 million to UNC Chapel Hill of which $20 million went towards the School of Pharmacy that bears his name. He has not recently been an active contributor to state level campaigns though his history of contribution has been relatively bi-partisan. At the Federal level his campaign giving is very active and decidedly Republican having given over $125,000 in the past six years.
In April 2008 P.P.D., Inc. announced plans to create 300 jobs at Kannapolis over the next three years. Eshelman said at the time:
I realized this project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, where industry and academic scientists can freely collaborate to bring innovations in scientific research to market, increasing the length and quality of human life.
It is unfortunate that the scientific method does not extend to “Real Debate” about how free market advocates work undercover to ensure the distribution of corporate welfare. It’s not known yet what direction this “debate” will take. Hartsell has drawn the ire of the Pope empire of free marketeers for his support of the North Carolina Research Campus. It will be interesting to watch, now that we know what to watch for.