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Lawmakers urged not to override veto of bill making political investigations secret

Lawmakers are expected to override a veto this afternoon that would make campaign finance investigations confidential to the public.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed House Bill 1029, which also restructures the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, because of its lack of transparency during a time when the voting system is being highly scrutinized. The State Board has been investigating alleged absentee ballot fraud for the past month in the 9th congressional district.

“Disturbing allegations of election fraud in the 9th congressional district race are mounting,” Cooper said in a statement yesterday. “Yet it’s astonishing that the legislature has passed a bill, HB 1029 (which I vetoed), that mandates secrecy for campaign finance investigations by the Elections Board.”

He encouraged North Carolinians to reach out to lawmakers to tell them they don’t want to protect politicians who commit fraud. The House and Senate return at 2 p.m. today to vote on the veto override.

Bob Hall, who used to work as the Executive Director of voting rights organization Democracy NC, also urged lawmakers not to override Cooper’s veto. Over the past 20+ years, he has filed numerous complaints with the State Board regarding possible campaign finance violations involving Democrats and Republicans.

Read his letter to the legislature below:

Dear Legislator,

I urge you to not override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of H-1029 and, instead, adopt a new bill that omits the parts of Section 4 which mandate: “All investigations shall be confidential” “with respect to alleged failures to file any statement required” by North Carolina’s campaign finance statutes or “with respect to alleged violations of any part of” the campaign finance statutes.

It is not in the best interest of legislators, candidates or the public to handcuff the State Board of Elections from revealing the status or the findings of its investigations about charges which may be entirely bogus. Under current law, the Board may close any investigation that involves possible criminal violations. It may then announce its findings, exonerate the target of a complaint, levy a fine, or refer the case to the appropriate prosecutor. Under H-1029, a registered voter such as myself could publicly release a complaint alleging serious violations but the State Board would be prohibited from revealing what its investigation determined. The public would be left to speculate about the alleged wrongdoing and the politician or party would remain under a cloud.

At this moment, I have multiple complaints pending at the State Board. For example, one alleges that Sen. Brent Jackson and his campaign “deceive the public” by purposely misidentifying dozens of campaign donors as “farmers.” More than $80,000 is thereby masked, with a substantial amount coming from business leaders across the state who benefitted from decisions of the Senate Appropriation Committee co-chaired by Sen. Jackson and legislation he helped pass. Another complaint I filed alleges that Judge Phil Berger Jr. (a) received campaign contributions from straw donors, i.e., the money came from somebody other than the person listed on Berger’s disclosure reports; (b) failed to report the expenses involved in fundraising events; and (c) received $10,000 from misidentified video poker sweepstakes owners who were, at the time of the donation, involved in a lawsuit in his home county and who were seeking its favorable resolution.

Eventually, the investigations of these complaints will end and the public will know what, if any, wrongdoing the State Board discovered. But no public release of the investigations’ findings would be permitted under H-1029.

Moreover, H-1029 will severely limit the capacity of the Board to uncover problems through an investigative public hearing, such as those held in the past regarding alleged campaign finance violations of House Speakers Jim Black and Harold Brubaker and legislators Thomas Wright and Fletcher Hartsell. These public hearings are vital (1) to determine the existence and scope of wrongdoing, if any, and (2) to bring enough public attention to apparent violations to cause prosecutors to pursue the cases referred to them.

The strict confidentiality mandated by H-1029 will cause innocent political figures to remain under a cloud of suspicion, and it will allow guilty political figures to escape punishment by having their cases secretly referred to local prosecutors who can simply ignore them. H-1029 should be changed.

Thank you,

Bob Hall

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