Senate Rules Chairman Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) called for a legislative oversight hearing Wednesday following a WRAL-TV news report on how Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration negotiated for the nearly $58 million fund from the builders of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).
Some have related the fund, which was set to be dispersed by the governor, to a personal slush fund for Cooper to spend where he chose.
The fund has since been appropriated to the school districts in the path of the ACP through bipartisan action of the legislature.
Further muddying the waters was the approval of a major water permit for the project announced alongside the fund, which was approved months ahead of schedule, inviting claims of pay-to-play politics from the governor’s office.
The existence of the agreement prompted an ethics complaint about whether Cooper’s conduct violated the North Carolina State Government Ethics Act from the president of the Conservative Civitas Institute, Donald Bryson.
A main concern for Rabon was that Cooper had failed to provide the legislature with documents requested as part of a public records request, but had supplied those same documents to WRAL-TV for its reporting.
“It is outrageous that the Cooper administration was selectively providing public records related to the governor’s pipeline scandal to a single news outlet while refusing to provide the same records to the legislature,” Rabon said. “The WRAL report proves that Roy Cooper had his hand in the cookie jar and intentionally steered money out of the state treasury and into a personal ‘slush fund’ he could dole out at his whim. This story raises more questions than it answers, and given the Cooper administration has spent weeks dodging simple questions and refusing to comply with the Public Records Act, I am asking Sen. [Phil] Berger and Speaker [Tim] Moore to include Gov. Cooper’s pipeline scandal as an agenda item at the next meeting of the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations.”
In a release Rabon highlighted two powers of the General Assembly in encoded in state law including a law that requires all state agencies to provide records and information requested by the General Assembly and a state law that authorizes the General Assembly to compel testimony and obtain public and private records via subpoena when state agencies or executives fail to deliver information in a timely manner indicating that a formal investigation by the legislature may be forthcoming.
The worst legislators could do to Cooper would be to impeach the governor.
In the case of an impeachment the House would have to vote to call for the impeachment with the Senate being the trial setting for an impeachment trial.
In a case where the governor or the lieutenant governor, who is the president of the Senate, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court presides over the trial.
A majority of the members of the Senate must be present to constitute a quorum and a vote of two-thirds of the senators present is required to convict.
If convicted the governor could be removed and barred from holding office in the state, but could also be subject to criminal indictment under the law.