Cooper and Staff Deflect, Won’t Answer NCGA Questions on Slush Fund

NC Governor Roy Cooper and his staff sure have spent a lot of time deflecting and throwing the Heisman pose to everyone asking questions about his 58 million dollar pipeline slush fund.

Local media questioned Cooper on it but, instead of answers, were treated to the stink eye from his chief of staff, Kristi Jones.

Then there’s the added bonus of Kristi Jones calling the NCGA’s move to put the $58 million into education “political theater.”

So what were the NCA’s questions specifically being asked and dodged by Roy Cooper?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown revealed them in his weekly newsletter:

1. Did Gov. Cooper personally bless the arrangement creating the $58 million fund?

2. Were the negotiated offers made in writing or in person? Are there other drafts you can share? Were other matters beyond the pipeline addressed during negotiations? If so, what matters?

Is the governor aware that state and federal law already require utilities building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to meet environmental mitigation requirements before the project can receive approval? Is he aware of recent reports from WBTV indicating the pipeline companies made additional payments totaling $11 million for mitigation purposes?

3. Why does the governor’s office call this a “voluntary contribution” when Democratic Rep. Pricey Harrison said it was “a condition of getting the permit granted” and the governor’s own spokesman has called the arrangement “negotiations,” which by definition are not voluntary? Did anyone in the executive branch or governor’s office, or with direct ties to the governor directly or indirectly ask Rep. Pricey Harrison to retract her statement that the fund was “a condition of getting the permit granted?”

4. Would the private parties involved in the negotiations agree with the governor’s assertion that this was a “voluntary contribution” completely unrelated to the permitting process?

5. Does the governor’s office think this type of activity – requesting large contributions from private businesses wanting to do business in our state – encourages economic development in North Carolina?

6. Do you think the solicitation and acceptance of this money by the governor erodes the public’s trust in the permit approval process?

7. Why does the governor’s office compare this agreement to actions taken in Virginia when the Virginia agreement was signed by the Commonwealth’s chief environmental regulator and went to specifically designated mitigation projects, while Gov. Cooper’s deal gives him unfettered control of an extra-governmental fund outside of the normal appropriations process allowed by the North Carolina Constitution?

8. Is this arrangement an illegal and unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers or a violation of due process?

9. Does this arrangement run afoul of state ethics law that prohibits elected officials from using their office and title to solicit funds for personal benefit?

10. You stated that discussions about the fund “began in 2017.” When in 2017? And when, specifically, did the actual negotiations take place? Did Gov. Cooper personally participate in and/or sign off on the negotiations?

11. Your statement, “never was the Governor contemplated to be the decision maker as to which projects were funded,” directly contradicts the last whereas clause of the MOU, which states “the Governor, through his agents and assigns… has the authority to direct the disbursement of funds contemplated in the MOU.” Please explain this inconsistency.

12. You stated the governor’s deal with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s builders may now be in peril. Have you heard this from the pipeline builders, or are you implying the governor will no longer accept the funds if they are used to help poor, rural Eastern North Carolina schools?

13. Why doesn’t the governor believe investing $58 million in our children’s public education in the eight poor, rural Eastern North Carolina counties impacted by the pipeline will help economic development and job creation in that region?

14. You mentioned, “the Rural Infrastructure Authority and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund are examples of two grantmakers operating under these guidelines that could fulfill the administrative process and accomplish the goals.” Aren’t these entities the subject of a lawsuit filed by Gov. Cooper claiming they are unconstitutionally constituted because he lacks sufficient dominance of the board appointments to exercise real control over the boards’ actions? Why would he support these funds being administered by two entities he is challenging in court? And why does he claim these boards are independent at the same time he is seeking complete control of them from the Democratic-controlled Supreme Court?

15. Your response, “as to whether shareholders or ratepayers would cover the cost of the fund, that is a decision for the utilities developing the pipeline,” contradicts the News & Observer report that “Duke and other utilities will seek to recover the full cost of the pipeline – which includes construction, permitting and environmental compliance – from their customers through their utility bills.” Why did Gov. Cooper fail to negotiate a requirement that these payments come out of corporate profits, rather than from rate-paying customers?

About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a reporter currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_ Tips:
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