NC GOP files ethics complaint against Cooper campaign

The complaint alleges that the Cooper campaign solicited donations from a PAC while the General Assembly was in session, a violation of campaign fundraising laws

Robin Hayes, Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, speaks during a press conference at the GOP Headquarters in Raleigh, Wednesday, August 9, 2017. The GOP is filing a complaint against Governor Roy Cooper for allegedly soliciting funds during an open legislative session. (Eamon Queeney / North State Journal)

RALEIGH — On August 9 Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party Robin Hayes announced that the state party was filing an ethics complaint against Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and his campaign Cooper for North Carolina for allegedly illegal fundraising activity, requesting an investigation.

On June 18 2017 Cooper for North Carolina hosted an event with the North Carolina Advocates of Justice (NCAJ) at the Sea Trail resort in Sunset Beach, North Carolina as part of the NCAJ annual convention. The complaint alleges that up to $50,000 was raised directly from NCAJ members during the event while the legislature was in active session with pending legislation, a violation of campaign finance laws.

The NCAJ is a non-partisan association of legal professionals and registered lobbying organization.

“When you don’t follow the law, it’s a major concern,” said Hayes at a press conference last week. “Particularly when it’s something as significant as raising money from a PAC during a legislative session when there is pending legislation that directly affects your members and your PAC.”

According to North Carolina statute, political campaigns are prohibited from soliciting donations while the General Assembly is in regular session, stating “No limited contributor shall solicit a contribution from any individual or political committee on behalf of a limited contributee” while the legislature is in session and voting on legislation.

The N.C. GOP asserts that Cooper, as a member of the Council of State and his campaign committee, Cooper for North Carolina, is considered a “limited contributee.” Likewise, the NCAJ, registered with the N.C. Secretary of State as a principal lobbying organization, is considered a “limited contributor.”

“It doesn’t pass the smell test any way you go around,” said executive director of the N.C. Republican Party Dallas Woodhouse. “There would be legal penalties for, potentially, the receiver of the funds and the donor. You would think a bunch of trial lawyers would know better. Ultimately that would be for the board of elections to decide, which Cooper has blocked.”

Further, the General Assembly was at the time considering legislation that affected levels of allowed damages in certain nuisance claims, a bill that reportedly was the focus of more than $1 million of lobbying fees paid in a mere 24 hour period with high interest from the legal community.

“You cannot raise money while the legislature is actively in session,” reiterated Hayes. “That’s very clear, but then you put on top of that they had legislation pending that directly impacts their members and their association, that, to my way of thinking, makes it a much more serious problem.”

While the complaint has been filed and investigations staff is in place, the State Board of Elections currently has no appointed members to rule on the matter. The lack of a board stems from a dispute between Cooper and the General Assembly about legislation that reformed the body.