North Carolina’s Attorney General Roy Cooper, the state’s top law enforcement officer, has a problem with lawsuits.
Not in bringing them, and as those who have become aware of the lawsuit against North Carolina for refusing to repeal the HB2 bathroom law know, certainly not in doing his job and defending against them.
For months, many have wondered where Roy Cooper was hiding, as he presumably runs as the Democrat nominee against North Carolina’s incumbent Governor Pat McCrory.
I say “presumably” because other than his California and New York-funded attack ads, as well as several gubernatorial debates (in which Governor McCrory successfully ate his lunch), nobody really sees Cooper.
It would seem that Cooper’s problem with lawsuits is in that he has several leveled against him and probably has little time to campaign when he’s trying to defend himself against them.
The first lawsuit was brought in 2000, and it may seem to be a bit of sour grapes, as it concerns the father of Cooper’s former opponent, Dan Boyce.
Dan Boyce was the Republican running against Cooper for the NC attorney general office.
Cooper defeated Boyce in that election, and has been North Carolina’s AG, ever since, languishing in the office for over a decade, as he waited for outside interests to elevate him to a higher position.
The case brought against him by Boyce’s father, Gene Boyce, was in regards to – of course – attack ads.
More specifically, it had to do with the lies Cooper’s campaign so comfortably told in the ads.
From January of 2016:
Boyce claims that starting in 2000, Cooper knowingly made false statements that harmed the reputation of Boyce and his law partners. Seeking to force an investigation, on Jan. 5 Boyce filed a formal complaint in Wake County Superior Court against the North Carolina State Bar, the state agency that regulates attorneys.
In the complaint, Boyce says that as an attorney he has an obligation to report the professional misconduct of other attorneys to the State Bar. According to the complaint, Boyce has notified the State Bar on multiple occasions about Cooper’s alleged misconduct but the State Bar has not responded. Boyce also believes the State Bar has a conflict of interest in the matter because Cooper also serves as the attorney for the State Bar.
Boyce is asking the court for a declaratory judgment forcing the State Bar to acknowledge Boyce’s claims of Cooper’s misconduct; declare that the State Bar has a conflict of interest in the matter; and refer the matter to an appropriate alternative agency for investigation, findings of fact, and discipline if appropriate.
The Boyces and their law partners Philip and Laura Isley in 2000 filed a defamation lawsuit against Cooper based on ads run by the Cooper campaign committee. The lawsuit alleged that Cooper and his committee ran a political ad that was defamatory and constituted an unfair and deceptive trade practice. It also charged that Cooper and his committee participated in a conspiracy to violate a North Carolina law prohibiting false ads during election campaigns. A trial court judge dismissed the lawsuit, but appellate courts ruled in Boyce’s favor on several occasions, and in 2014 the matter was scheduled to go to trial.
Cooper was forced to apologize, in writing, for the false content of his ads in 2014, and he probably thought it was over.
That ended the civil lawsuit, but Boyce asserts that Cooper’s conduct in the matter is a separate issue that the State Bar needs to address.
Without getting into the full details here, we can say the case involves deceptive practices by Cooper, and outright lies in his ads.
Some things never change, as Cooper has employed the same technique in his ads against Governor Pat McCrory.
So you would think AG Cooper would mind his step, once he had already secured his office, but apparently, time in his position has made him arrogant and entitled.
Sounds like a Democrat.
The latest lawsuit against Roy Cooper was filed on October 18, 2016 by the Civitas Center for Law and Freedom, alleging that he diverted funds from public education to special interest groups.
The North Carolina Constitution, as well as a 2005 NC Supreme Court decision, require all fines and forfeitures be directed to public schools. The Civitas Center for Law and Freedom lawsuit alleges that Roy Cooper, in his capacity as attorney general, directed funds resulting from a 1999 agreement with Smithfield Foods that appear to be equivalent to fines and forfeitures to favored environmental groups.
One of the environmental groups that received funding under this agreement may have supported political advertising against Roy Cooper’s opponent in the current race for governor, Gov. Pat McCrory. Additionally, the funds were paid out by Smithfield Foods, which is a subsidiary of a Chinese corporation. The Civitas Institute filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections demanding an investigation into the use of those funds and whether they are American in origin.
I’m no lawyer, but that really sounds like a butt load of wrong, especially coming from someone whose job requires he know better.
The case begins with Smithfield Foods, Inc., a hog processing company, that began buying up different meat processing companies in 1999.
Carroll’s Foods, Brown’s of Carolina, Circle Four, Western Pork Production Corporation, and eventually, Murphy Family Farm were acquired by Smithfield’s.
They were, essentially, creating a monopoly, and the AGs of different states were taking notice.
In North Carolina, another Democratic attorney general, Mike Easley – now a convicted felon, disgraced attorney, and former governor – had plenty of political reasons to make a deal with Smithfield Foods rather than joining with other attorneys general in suing Smithfield. By not taking Smithfield to court, he could pressure the company to fork over millions of dollars with an “environmental enhancement agreement,” winning political points among his supporters. Meanwhile, as he looked ahead to running for governor, he would also be keeping Smithfield on his side by not costing the company millions more in legal fees and a possible delay or blocking of the merger. Anything Smithfield could do to prevent more costly litigation and allow the Murphy purchase to go through would surely be more-than-welcome news for all the hog producers involved.
It would also be welcome to others on the state’s political scene. One of the founders and owners of Murphy Family Farms was Wendell Murphy, a former Democratic state legislator who had already been listed on the “Forbes 400” list of the richest Americans.
Smithfield was about to become the largest hog producer in the country, in a deal that would cement Murphy’s status as a billionaire.
Easley was one of those Democrat governors who had control over North Carolina in the 20 years before Governor Pat McCrory won office.
This is where it starts getting hairy.
In order to avoid further scrutiny and to proceed with the merger with Murphy, Smithfield agreed to pay $15 million to North Carolina State University, as well as $50 million over 25 years, for “environmental enhancement.”
Since Civitas filed its lawsuit, Cooper’s spokesperson said “[Smithfield Foods] voluntarily agreed to directly fund water research and water quality projects,” essentially saying that the company agreed to give up to $65 million out of the goodness of its heart.
Based on facts, however, it is not hard to reach a different conclusion: that pressure from the state compelled Smithfield into accepting the “agreement.” Any agreement with government by its very nature carries either an implicit or explicit threat: “comply or else.” Furthermore, the fact that Smithfield Foods agreed to deliver the money directly to the Attorney General and not the General Assembly strongly suggests a quid pro quo.
Every year since the agreement was signed, Smithfield Foods has given up to $2 million to the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office to give out in the form of “Environmental Enhancement Grants.”
So AG Cooper is getting those funds, to be distributed as he sees fit, apparently.
Looking at everything that was happening around the time the agreement was signed – Easley’s upcoming gubernatorial campaign, the Smithfield-Murphy merger, and the other lawsuits brought by Democratic attorneys general – it seems this agreement was signed under threat. It appears the payout resulting from the agreement is tantamount to a fine or forfeiture, and thus falls under Article IX, Section 7 of the North Carolina Constitution, which states: “all moneys, stocks, bonds, and other property belonging to a county school fund, and the clear proceeds of all penalties and forfeitures and of all fines collected in the several counties for any breach of the penal laws of the State, shall belong to and remain in the several counties, and shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for maintaining free public schools.”
Except that’s not what’s happening.
In 1998, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources implemented a policy that allowed parties found violating environmental law to direct a portion of civil or criminal penalties to a “Supplemental Environmental Project.” The North Carolina School Boards Association and several individual school boards filed suit against State Treasurer Richard Moore. They demanded that those fines be directed to the public schools as is constitutionally required.
After several years of litigation, in 2005 the state Supreme Court agreed with the School Boards Association that the funds paid for Supplemental Environmental Programs were subject to Article IX, Section 7 of the Constitution and therefore must go to public schools. The Court also held that the previous three years of fines paid that went to SEPs must be recovered.
Roy Cooper was named as a party in that lawsuit.
The “Environmental Enhancement” programs administered by Roy Cooper appear to be identical to the Supplemental Environmental Programs set up by DENR in 1998. As a result, Francis De Luca, a North Carolina taxpayer being represented in court by Paul “Skip” Stam, sued Cooper on the grounds that the funds expended for environmental enhancement should go to the public schools in the future and the past three years of grants should be recovered from their recipients.
Cooper’s office is taking in $2 million each year to be distributed among 10 organizations.
One of Cooper’s chosen recipients is the Pamlico Tar River Foundation. They have received nearly $400,000 since 2004 from Cooper’s office.
In 2015, they merged with the Neuse River Foundation, to form “Sound Rivers,” which is, in turn, part of an umbrella corporation called the North Carolina Environmental Partnership (NCEP).
The NCEP has never filed with the North Carolina Board of Elections, but the Center for Public Integrity shows that they are the largest single sponsor of ads aimed at attacking Governor McCrory in the current gubernatorial race.
They have spent nearly $2 million in attack ads, so far.
Since there is no public disclosure of the source of funds the NCEP uses for its anti-McCrory ad campaigns, and to date, no evidence of an audit or verification as to what the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation did with the money, it is reasonable to assume that some or all of the money goes directly to the NCEP for ads opposing Republicans, and Gov. McCrory this year.
Furthermore, in 2013, Smithfield Foods was sold to a Chinese company, Shuanghui International Holdings. Nothing has changed from the original deal with Smithfield’s, therefore, the money for AG Cooper’s environmental grants is, in effect, coming from a foreign source.
AND, companies receiving those grants are paying for attack ads during this gubernatorial election. That’s actually a federal crime.
The Civitas Center for Law and Freedom’s lawsuit alleges Roy Cooper, in his capacity as attorney general, both knew about legal precedent prohibiting the direction of fines and forfeitures to environmental programs and apparently ignored the Constitutional provision requiring fines and forfeitures to be directed solely to public schools. Cooper directed funds that appear to be equivalent to fines and forfeitures resulting from a 1999 agreement with Smithfield Foods away from public schools and instead diverted them to environmental programs. A related Civitas Institute complaint to the State Board of Elections alleges that a recipient of the diverted funds, the Pamlico Tar River Foundation, may have supported political advertising against Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, Democrat Cooper’s opponent in this year’s gubernatorial race. Smithfield Foods is a subsidiary of a Chinese corporation. It is possible that Chinese money is influencing the 2016 gubernatorial campaign.
The underlying issues here are important and bear repeating: Using the threat of government force, it seems clear that elected officials coerced a private business to give millions to liberal special interest groups. Not only do these groups actively work against the interests of that business, but based on available information, it also looks like they are backing – some monetarily, some otherwise – Roy Cooper’s run for governor. This is but one example of how a massive network of liberal organizations and insiders can use government to their advantage. The next attorney general would do well to stop this practice and ensure that any and all fines and forfeitures go to public education as the Constitution demands and not to favored individuals and organizations.
It’s a lot, and it seems really twisted and complicated.
I’m not going to pretend I know how solid the case may be.
I’ll say this, however: Roy Cooper is running with a cloud of lawsuits hanging over his head, and hands that are dirty from collusion, against a very successful governor in Pat McCrory.
One has to question what is says about North Carolina Democrats when they can find no better opponent to make their case than Roy Cooper.