‘Tis the season for … investigations, it seems. And one that’s been in the works in Raleigh for some time reached a milestone last week.
More than a year ago, Republicans in the N.C. legislature alleged that Gov. Roy Cooper may have engaged in a pay-to-play shakedown of natural gas pipeline operators — Duke Energy, Dominion Energy and others — pressuring them to contribute to a $57.8 million mitigation fund under his control. The allegations were spurred by the fact that the fund’s “memorandum of understanding” was announced on the same day that a water permit was approved, allowing the operators to proceed with their plans for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Cooper denied any connection — the mitigation package wasn’t a prerequisite for the permit, he and his aides said. Nevertheless, Republicans hired private investigators to look into matters, at a cost of $83,000 to taxpayers.
They reported their conclusions last week.
They included that Cooper appears to have “improperly used the authority and influence of his office” to pressure natural gas pipeline builders to agree to the mitigation fund. But, they also concluded, there was no evidence that Cooper personally benefited from the fund, as some had alleged.
Cooper’s office challenged the report, saying it’s “full of inaccuracies and contradictions.”
“The report even concedes that the permit was done properly, that Duke believed the permits weren’t dependent on the fund or the solar settlement, and that the governor did not benefit,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said in a statement.
If motive matters, there’s little question that the governor’s was pure. He may have violated some protocols, but the fund will go toward environmental mitigation, renewable energy and economic development projects along the proposed pipeline’s route in eastern North Carolina. That’s to everyone’s benefit.
The investigators say they didn’t focus specifically on whether Cooper broke the law, but the report said “the information suggests that criminal violations may have occurred.” So now the Republican-led oversight committee, which lacks power to take direct action in response to the findings, has to decide how to proceed.
Some are calling for an official government investigation with subpoena power. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who, coincidentally, is the likely Republican candidate for governor next year, has called on the FBI to investigate Cooper.
Despite the indignity of being investigated, Cooper should have been more readily forthcoming and transparent during the investigation; instead, he fought it, initially refusing to let his staff be interviewed. His chief of staff, Kristi Jones, alleged that investigators might use “underhanded or even illegal” interrogation methods.
At least they didn’t call it a “witch hunt.”
Both Democrats and Republicans bristle at being investigated by the other party, often calling such investigations politically motivated.
Surely some investigations are. The ones conducted by the other party.
But the best way to get through an investigation is with the facts. If there are valid questions, they should be answered, quickly and completely.
There’s a lot of distrust between the two major parties that comprise our state government, and that may be the greatest shame of all. More transparency is called for — as is more cooperation and a commitment to responsible governing. But that may only happen when the electorate learns how to elect officials who will lead with that spirit.