Is Roy Cooper taking money that should go to North Carolina’s schoolchildren and instead diverting it to liberal environmental groups? It turns out that some of these very same environmental groups are listed as sponsors of political ads.
And is the State Elections Board (SBE) failing in its duty to investigate dubious campaign spending, spending that Civitas filed a complaint about over two years ago, yet still has received no response? Civitas has updated its complaint and is also asking about possible involvement of Chinese money in North Carolina elections.
Today Civitas filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections (SBE) calling for the SBE to investigate those alarming possibilities.
To understand all, let’s look at the three elements of this disturbing situation.
- Activist Groups Duck Campaign Funding Rules
It starts in 2014, when activist groups, under the umbrella of a mysterious organization called the North Caroline Environmental Partnership, apparently violated North Carolina lobbying laws. As Civitas President De Luca said then:
“The people of North Carolina deserve to know who is trying to influence elections and legislation in our state. Our most recent investigation indicates that two out-of-state groups apparently have been trying to conceal their funding of an ad campaign launched against six NC legislators and against legislation supporting energy development. We are filing a complaint today because we believe one group has been lobbying here, but has failed to register as a lobbying organization.”
We filed that complaint more than two years ago. To this day, the NCEP has never filed a single disclosure form or report with the SBE. Neither has the SBE indicated it has resolved Civitas’ original complaint.
- Cooper Doles Out Funds to Environmental Groups
The next link in the chain is how the attorney general takes funds that should go to North Carolina schools and diverts them to handpicked environmental groups.
On Monday, the Civitas Center for Law and Freedom (CLF) filed suit against Roy Cooper in his capacity as North Carolina Attorney General alleging that he illegally funneled settlement money to special interest groups.
The state constitution says that all fines and settlement funds should go to public education. But under a 2000 agreement, Smithfield Foods and other agribusiness companies agreed to pay up to $2 million a year to the state attorney general, supposedly to pay for improved water quality. That will total $50 million by the time the settlement expires in 2025.
According to the new complaint, however, Attorney General Cooper distributes them to whomever he pleases, with no oversight from the General Assembly or the state Budget Office. Cooper’s own state website says the attorney general himself doles out the funds, and they go to a range of environmental groups. But there is no public information about whether the money they get actually goes to clean up the water, or any other public use.
In fact, some of that money may have been used to benefit Roy Cooper politically.
- Environmental Group Runs Ads Blasting McCrory
A group called the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation has received $387,794 from Attorney General Cooper over the years. The largest sum, $129,309, came in 2014, when it was obvious to every political observer in the state that Cooper was gearing up to run for governor.
Pamlico-Tar River Foundation is a member of the NCEP. This year the NCEP has spent at least $1.4 million in ads attacking Cooper’s opponent, Gov. McCrory. That’s a lot of money for a nonprofit group to spend.
Moreover, the NCEP is made up of other environmental organizations. Are some of them also receiving Smithfield funds from Attorney General Cooper, and is that money going to fund anti-McCrory ads via the NCEP?
One additional twist: in 2013, Smithfield Foods was acquired by a Chinese company. However, federal law prohibits political committees from accepting donations from “foreign nationals.” That raises the possibility that, by using money from the Chinese-controlled Smithfield, the NCEP and any other groups involved are breaking federal law.
SBE Must Act Promptly
It is urgent that the SBE investigate this chain of events promptly and vigorously. There are signs that Attorney General Cooper, instead of channeling settlement money to the state’s public schools, is instead diverting the money to environmental groups, who turn around and use the money to fund attacks on Cooper’s political opponent.
The SBE has left the NCEP situation to fester for two years. This time, people of North Carolina deserve a fast, thorough, fearless investigation of these disturbing connections.