RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s governor said Tuesday he’s vetoing legislation that directs fully rerun elections if fraud is found in a disputed U.S. House race, saying the hastily approved bill also adds new cover for lobbyists and people who violate campaign finance laws.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said he’ll sign the legislation if state lawmakers remove the section that includes details like requiring that state elections officials refer apparent campaign finance crimes to a separate commission for a confidential review on whether prosecutors are notified. The section raising Cooper’s ire also requires that new rules regulating lobbying to go through a time-consuming review process.
“This bill makes it harder to root out corruption in elections and campaign finance,” Cooper said at a news conference. “These new provisions can shield wrongdoers by adding broad confidentiality requirements, limiting those who can file a complaint, handcuffing investigators on how far back they can look and by requiring a re-investigation by a second committee before evidence can be turned over to prosecutors.”
The legislation also reworks who oversees the enforcement of state elections and ethics laws and would require new primary elections if last month’s results in the 9th Congressional District race are abandoned.
The current elections board is investigating absentee ballot problems in the district, where unofficial results show Republican Mark Harris leading Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. An evidentiary hearing is scheduled on Jan. 11, after which the board could have called for a new 9th District general election, but not necessarily Republican and Democratic primaries.
North Carolina’s three U.S. House Democrats last week objected to potentially re-running the 9th District race from the beginning, but Cooper said he didn’t have a problem with that part of the bill. The legislation passed by broad legislative support.
The measure also sought to end a two-year power struggle between Cooper and GOP legislators over elections board control. The legislation would largely return elections, ethics enforcement and lobbyist reporting to how it was before Republican lawmakers shifted authority away during a December 2016 special session just before Cooper took office.
Cooper fought the Republican move, saying they were only trying to erode his power and stall corruption investigations and decisions on where to place early-voting sites.
Cooper sued successfully three times over GOP versions of a combined ethics and elections board that Republican leaders argued would help produce bipartisan results.
Judges ruled the GOP’s previous efforts to rework the board were unconstitutional since they failed to give the governor control over an executive agency by preventing Cooper from choosing a majority of board members.
The governor’s veto announcement indicates what Cooper really wants is partisan control of the elections board’s investigatory power, said a spokesman for state Senate Leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican.
“Governor Cooper’s failure to act is holding the entire Board of Elections hostage, including the NC-9 investigation, in his effort to achieve unchecked power to launch corrupt and unfounded partisan attacks on legislators,” spokesman Patrick Ryan said in a statement.