RALEIGH – Gov. Roy Cooper held a press conference Wednesday to address the growing controversy around a roughly $58 million slush fund, to be controlled by Cooper, arranged as part of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
In the presser, Cooper defended the fund, saying, “The fund idea was a great one.”
Great for who? Cooper says the idea came about as Eastern North Carolina stakeholders expressed concerns that the jobs and economic boost from the pipeline construction would not be permanent. So they began having conversations about how to spread around a lot of money for economic development around the pipeline route, never mind that Cooper and his family own hundreds of acres along that route.
— Senator Phil Berger (@SenatorBerger) February 14, 2018
Now, with the General Assembly passing legislation to take that slush fund money and put it toward school districts in the relevant area, Cooper says lawmakers have “put it in jeopardy.”
He never addresses why, if this was merely for the good of the State and the affected residents, the funds needed to be under his control. If he was so worried about the ‘good of the State’, then why didn’t he simply ask the legislature to take the funds and administer them with similar goals in mind?
Instead, he is blaming Jones Street Republicans for a ‘partisan political power grab’ because they have the temerity to deny him control over a $58 million slush fund that he could very well use to shower supportive groups with cash or possibly even guide funds to economic development project that directly or indirectly raise the value of his family’s extensive property holdings.
In the video, you can see Cooper just itching to get away from that microphone before he faced questions over the ethics of it all, the timing and relationship between getting the fund promise and approving permits.
“I really don’t know,” was his response to a question about who all was involved in the conversations that led to the agreement. He then assures that the permit was not dependent on the slush fund agreement, because the permitting process is ‘completely independent’ within the Department of Environmental Quality.
Are we to believe, though, that Cooper doesn’t have a finger on the pulse of his own executive agency with respect to such a big economic development opportunity?
The slush fund was announced minutes after the permit approval of the pipeline, and questions continue regarding the legality of Cooper’s control over an escrow account for the funds.
From Carolina Journal’s Rick Henderson:
“The $57.8-million discretionary fund the Atlantic Coast Pipeline operators planned to pay to an escrow Gov. Roy Cooper would control was in fact negotiated between the pipeline’s operators and a series of private parties. It remains unclear whether Cooper’s involvement was legal.
In his weekly syndicated column […], Tom Campbell, host of the UNC-TV public-affairs program “NC SPIN,” said the agreement was worked out in July 2017 at the offices of the North Carolina Farm Bureau and, presumably, presented to Cooper later. Cooper’s attorney signed the agreement on the governor’s behalf, but it did not receive legislative approval.
Campbell noted the unusual timing by Cooper’s administration, whose Department of Environmental Quality announced the pipeline’s approval minutes before Cooper released a memo outlining the $57.8-million fund. […] Because the General Assembly was not included in the process of receiving or disbursing the money, though, it remains unclear whether this arrangement satisfies the state constitution’s mandate that money handled by state agencies must get some sort of legislative approval.”
Cooper trying to go around the General Assembly? Ya don’t say!
At every turn Cooper has either filed lawsuits or struck out into extra-constitutional territory to negate the Republican majorities in the legislative branch of our state government.
If he didn’t harbor such partisan, uncooperative feelings about the Republicans on Jones Street himself, perhaps this fund’s purported goals could have been achieved without violating ethical and constitutional requirements.
There should be more details emerging as the ethics commission investigates the slush fund, and Corrupt Cooper will continue to squirm under a the hot lights from a controversy of his own making.