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GOP accuses Cooper of taking illegal donations

August 9th, 2017

— The North Carolina Republican Party on Wednesday accused Gov. Roy Cooper of campaign finance violations and called for a state investigation.

A complaint filed with the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement alleges that Cooper wrongly collected $50,000 in campaign donations from members of a political action committee in June.

Cooper appeared at the convention of North Carolina Advocates for Justice, the state trial lawyers association, in Sunset Beach on June 18. During the event, a reception was held in Cooper’s honor, with dozens of “hosts” contributing $5,200 each to his campaign fund.

Under state law, legislators and members of the Council of State, including the governor, cannot accept contributions from PACs or groups that employ lobbyists while the legislature is in session. The legislature adjourned on June 30.

“When you don’t follow the law, then serious questions are raised,” GOP Chairman Robin Hayes said, calling for a formal investigation by the elections board.

Cooper campaign spokesman Morgan Jackson called the allegations “baseless,” saying the campaign paid for everything and that no improper donations were offered or accepted.

“This is a baseless complaint that just happens to come out on a day that public polling numbers were released showing that Governor Cooper has strong statewide approval ratings,” Jackson said in a statement.

Kim Crouch, executive director of NCAJ, also said the reception was organized by and paid for by Cooper’s campaign and the donations weren’t illegal.

“It was not an NCAJ or NCAJ PAC event,” Crouch said. “Any contribution that was made came from individual members.”

Hayes noted that many of the donors sit on the PAC’s board, suggesting it was really the PAC soliciting the money.

“The fact that they had legislation pending that directly impacted their members and their association, that makes it, to my way of thinking, a much more serious problem,” Hayes said.

He referred to two bills, one that limits nuisance lawsuits by people who live near agriculture and forestry operations, including hog farms, and another that would change how asbestos victims can sue for damages.

But Cooper vetoed the nuisance lawsuit bill – and lawmakers overrode the veto – weeks before the NCAJ event, and the asbestos bill was shunted off to a House committee in late May and likewise wasn’t pending at the time of the fundraiser.

“Take all the pieces – any one of the pieces is disappointing, put them all together, it becomes egregious,” Hayes said.

The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement currently doesn’t exist. Cooper and legislative leaders remain locked in a legal battle over its creation late last year, and the state Supreme Court ruled that Cooper doesn’t have to appoint any members until the issue is resolved.

Still, that didn’t stop Hayes from suggesting a nefarious motive for the lack of a board to investigate the GOP complaint.

“I’ll plant the question,” he said during a news conference. “We’re operating now with no board of elections. So, might we think that the governor is dragging his feet in appointing that board of elections so that there is no official body to look at these kinds of infractions and breaking of the rules?”

Josh Lawson, general counsel to the elections board, said agency staff would investigate the allegations.

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