Who is Lola Wooten and why was Dan McCready’s lawyer trying to obscure her?
- An attorney for Dan McCready, Marc Elias, attempted to raise doubts about there being any relationship between the Bladen County Improvement Association (BCIA PAC) and Bladen County political operative Lola Wooten.
- State Board of Elections data shows that the BCIA PAC paid Wooten during the 2018 election.
- That data also shows a financial relationship between the BCIA PAC and The NC Democratic Party in 2018.
The NC State Board of Elections (SBE) hearings last February into alleged absentee ballot fraud in the 9th Congressional District race had a narrow focus; determining if there were enough irregularities to make it impossible to know who really won that election. Naturally, that focus caused state board officials to spend most of their time and effort investigating allegations against the Mark Harris campaign since Harris had won on election night by just 905 votes.
That, in turn, led to a focus on McCrae Dowless, a political operative in Bladen County who worked to help Harris in Bladen and Robeson counties. Dowless and seven associates were arrested for alleged illegal collecting of absentee ballots. However, as the hearing progressed, it became clear that there were people not employed by Dowless who appeared to be conducting illegal election activities (more on that later). One of those people was Lola Wooten.
Who is Lola Wooten?
Wooten’s name came up early on the first day of the hearing, when Lisa Britt (the first witness in the hearing, who was among those arrested along with Dowless) was answering questions from SBE Executive Director Kim Strach. The testimony revealed a cooperative relationship between Dowless’ operation and Wooten (transcript from first day of SBE 9th District hearing, pages 43-44):
- Kim Strach: There was a copier in that office, I assume. [Referring to McCrae Dowless’ office in Bladenboro.]
- Lisa Britt: Yes, ma’am.
- Kim Strach: So you talked about making copies of your own requests. Did you ever make copies of anyone else that came into the office with their requests?
- Lisa Britt: There was another lady and gentleman who came in, yes, ma’am, that–
- Kim Strach: Do you recall the names of those individuals?
- Lisa Britt: I think one of the lady [sic] is named Ms. Wooten, and the other gentleman I saw earlier, but I’m not sure of his name. [The gentleman, later identified as Horace Munn (see page 55 of the transcript), was at the hearing and asked to stand by Strach.]
- Kim Strach: And you say Ms. Wooten. Is it Lola Wooten?
- Lisa Britt: Yes, ma’am, I think so.
From page 45 of the transcript of the first day of the hearing:
- Kim Strach: You just made the copy of the requests, and then would you keep the original or would you give it back to–
- Lisa Britt: We’d give them back the original.
- Kim Strach: About how many times did you see Ms. Wooten in the office?
- Lisa Britt: Maybe once a week.
- Kim Strach: About once a week, and how about the gentleman you just identified?
- Lisa Britt: Maybe the same.
So Dowless had a cooperative understanding with Wooten and Munn that included allowing them to make copies of absentee ballot requests at Dowless’ office. As seen in the absentee ballot request submissions log maintained by the Bladen County Board of Elections, Wooten personally submitted 230 absentee ballot requests to the board’s office. (There are no records of absentee ballot requests submitted by Munn.) That cooperation extended to the point of Dowless developing a list with Munn of people from whom Dowless’ operatives would not collect ballots. Those names came from a list of people Britt said, “Ms. Wooten had registered to vote in the Bladenboro, Fayetteville areas” (pages 56-57 of first day of 9th District hearing testimony).
During her testimony, Britt stated that Wooten “was working for Bladen Improvements.” That is the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC (BCIA PAC). Attorney Marc Elias, who represented 9th District Democratic candidate Dan McCready at the hearing, sought to distance Wooten from the BCIA PAC, the Democratic Party, and McCready (transcript from first day of SBE 9th District hearing, pages 162-164):
- Marc Elias: Do you know who she [Wooten] was working for?
- Lisa Britt: I told you that she was working for Bladen Improvements; that I had also read that in the paper she was working for Bladen Improvement.
- Marc Elias: So you read that in your newspaper.
- Lisa Britt: Yes, sir.
- Marc Elias: Do you know–other than what you read in the newspaper, do you know who she was working for?
- Lisa Britt: No, sir.
- Marc Elias: So you don’t know whether she was being paid by Mr. Dowless.
- Lisa Britt: You asked me that a minute ago. No, sir, I don’t. I don’t know who Mr. Dowless paid.
- Marc Elias: And you don’t know whether she was working for Bladen Improvement.
- Lisa Britt: No, sir.
- Marc Elias: And you don’t know if she was working for the Democrats?
- Lisa Britt: No, sir.
- Marc Elias: [Later] Do you know if Ms. Wooten or Mr. Munn was working for the Democrats?
- Lisa Britt: I don’t know.
- Marc Elias: And do you know whether Ms. Wooten or Mr. Munn were working for Mr. McCready?
- Lisa Britt: No, sir.
The interesting thing in that exchange is not that Britt could not provide verifiable proof that Wooten was working for the BCIA or the Democrats (who can verify whom anyone works for beyond what they see in the media or understand from “common knowledge?”). What is interesting is the effort Elias goes through to try to obscure any relationship Wooten might have with the Bladen County Improvement Association and, by extension and Elias’ own words, the Democratic Party of North Carolina and Dan McCready.
Documented relationships between Lola Wooten, the BCIA PAC, and the NC Democratic Party
So, what are the facts? Despite Marc Elias’ attempts to obscure any possible relationship between the Bladen County Improvement Association, Lola Wooten (and others), and the North Carolina Democratic Party, there is documentary evidence that such relationships did exist. Figure 1 is a detail from the fourth quarter 2018 financial report filed by the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC with the NC State Board of Elections. It shows total payments of $885 to Wooten. The two payments shown on that page of the report were for “G.O.T.V.” (get-out-the-vote).
So, in fact, there was a financial relationship between Wooten and the BCIA. How about the North Carolina Democratic Party? Figure 2, another detail from the fourth quarter 2018 financial report filed by the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC with the NC State Board of Elections, shows that the North Carolina Democratic Party contributed $6,000 to the BCIA PAC in that election cycle.
If denial doesn’t work, baffle them with bluster
As evidence of the financial relationship that Wooten and others had with the BCIA PAC came to light and testimony showed that people paid by the BCIA PAC had illegally collected absentee ballots, Elias retreated to bluster and semantics in a five-way discussion with State Elections Board Chairman Bob Cordle, board member David C. Black, and Mark Harris attorneys Alex Dale and David Freedman (Third day of Ninth District hearing, pages 613-615):
- Marc Elias: There was no testimony that I recall that anyone was working on behalf of Bladen County Improvement Association to pick up ballots. I think that that is a mischaracterization of the testimony.
- Bob Cordle: I think that’s correct. I don’t recall any testimony–
- David C. Black: Lisa Britt testified to that.
- Alex Dale: And Precious Hall. Precious Hall testified these members of the Bladen Improvement PAC–
- Bob Cordle: You’re right. She did.
- Marc Elias: What they–what they–what you are doing is every person paid by an organization doesn’t mean that they were working for that organization to do that purpose. In fact, this witness has said that Mr. Dowless did a bunch of activities that he says wasn’t done on their behalf. So what you’re doing is you’re smearing this organization saying that people who appear on this report as doing GOTV, which is not the same as absentee balloting, and you know that, and this witness, when I ask him, he’ll know that–he’ll say that. You’re saying that somehow because they got paid by Bladen Improvement small sums of money, somehow that ties them to doing unlawful activity, and there’s no —
- Freedman: Didn’t you just say that Dr Harris is tied to McCrae Dowless because he paid him–
- Marc Elias: He hired him. He hired him. He described the program. We’re going to hear from him.
- Freedman: You’re doing the exact same thing.
The BCIA’s report with the State Board of Elections demonstrates that there were financial links between Lola Wooten and the BCIA PAC, and that there were financial links between the BCIA and the North Carolina Democratic Party.
Given the clear documentary evidence of those relationships, why would Dan McCready’s lawyer attempt to obscure them? I cannot reach into the recesses of Elias’ mind to know for certain. However, there is data and evidence suggesting that people paid by the BCIA PAC (including Wooten) were engaged in ballot harvesting, the illegal collecting of voters’ absentee ballots. Such information would have been embarrassing to McCready and Democratic Party.
That data and evidence will be the subject of my next article.