uby WorldTribune Staff, February 16, 2018
Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is calling for an investigation into what he referred to as a $58 million “slush fund” set up by current Gov. Roy Cooper linked to permitting for the advancement of a natural gas pipeline.
“The people of North Carolina will not stand for a culture of corruption and it’s time for a full and complete ethics investigation,” McCrory said in a social media post.
In a Feb. 13 interview with the Raleigh News & Observer, McCrory said the fund “sets up a dangerous precedent. At minimum, it gives the perception of a pay-to-play system and at maximum the reality of it.”
The North Carolina Senate on Feb. 9 passed legislation that will redirect the $57.8 million pipeline fund to local school districts. The fund was linked to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline that will stretch 600 miles between West Virginia and eastern North Carolina.
McCrory told the New & Observer that if he had set up a fund like Cooper’s “there would be front page editorials calling for an investigation.”
Related: Conflict? NC Senate shifts governor’s pipeline ‘slush fund’ to local school districts, February 12, 2018
Republican state legislators said in a letter sent to Cooper’s legislative director, Lee Lilley, “We are sure you can understand why many North Carolinians are concerned that it appears the governor obtained $58 million for a personal ‘slush fund’ as ‘a condition of getting the permit granted’ (the latter are the words of Democratic Rep. Pricey Harrison.),” Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon and House Rules Chairman David Lewis wrote. “This series of events has raised a number of serious ethical and constitutional questions across the political spectrum about potential pay-to-play or pay-for-permit, and deserve prompt answers.”
Meanwhile, Dan Kane reported for The News & Observer on Feb. 14 that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline “comes close to several properties owned or co-owned” by Cooper, but “his staff says he will take steps to ensure he and his family would not directly benefit” from the special fund.
“Cooper grew up in Nash County, and he and his brother, Pell, a district court judge, own roughly 375 acres spread across 13 properties,” Kane wrote.
“As landowners near the pipeline, the Cooper brothers’ properties could potentially benefit from the $57.8 million fund. The governor’s staff says the fund was negotiated independently of the permitting process that led to the pipeline’s approval.”
Kane noted that North Carolina state ethics law “prohibits officials from using their positions for direct financial benefit. That hasn’t happened with the special fund’s creation, said Norma Houston, an attorney and lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government.”
Houston said of Cooper: “At this point, he has not taken any action that would result in a financial benefit to him or his immediate family.”