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Governor Cooper vetoes bill that targets mask wearing, alters campaign finance laws

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Governor Cooper vetoes bill that targets mask wearing, alters campaign finance laws

Jun 21, 2024 | 12:12 pm ET
By Clayton Henkel
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Governor Cooper vetoes bill that targets mask wearing, alters campaign finance laws
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Governor Roy Cooper has vetoed House Bill 237 (File photo)

Governor Roy Cooper vetoed House Bill 237 (Various Criminal and Election Law Changes) on Friday, saying the controversial legislation created a gaping loophole for secret and unlimited campaign contributions.

“While voters are kept in the dark, this scheme allows anonymous out-of-state billionaires to flood North Carolina with campaign contributions to rescue extreme right-wing candidates that Republicans now fear will lose,” said Cooper in a statement.

Good government groups widely panned the bill that initially addressed just wearing masks in public, but was then revised to include language that would dramatically change the state’s campaign finance laws.

The move so angered Senate Democrats, 20 members walked out of the chamber in protest when the bill was quickly brought to a floor vote. Undeterred, Senate Republicans passed the bill 28-0.

Melissa Price Kromm of North Carolina for the People Action said the provision amounted to a political money laundering scheme.

“But it gets even worse. The way that they rewrote this law, it could influence legislation,” Kromm told NC Newsline in an interview earlier this week. “Remember last year they were trying to pass this gambling bill, right? Say, gambling interests wanted to make sure that their legislation passed. They could launder large donations to a federal front group and into these committees, maybe controlled by state folks. Or federal PAC could basically hand lawmakers a check before a crucial vote. Everything about this is outrageous.”

Cooper said he also has concerns that the bill prevents those who want or need to wear a mask for medical reasons from doing so.

“The legislation also removes protections and threatens criminal charges for people who want to protect their health,” said Cooper.

Sen. Buck Newton (R-Greene) told colleagues the aim was to reinstate a law that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The purpose is to deal with organizations and individuals who are intent on breaking the law and hiding their identity,” Newton told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.

With Cooper’s veto, the measure returns to the legislature where Republican leaders will attempt an override.

Speaker Tim Moore vowed Friday that the NC House “will swiftly override Governor Cooper’s veto of this legislation that prevents violent protestors from masking their identity and updates campaign finance law to even the playing field for both political parties.”

Last week, the governor vetoed a Republican bill that would modify the definition of “delinquent juvenile” and send more 16- and 17-year-olds to the adult court system. Cooper said he worried the legislation would erode the bipartisan “Raise the Age” law passed four years ago.

Dawn Blagrove, Executive Director of Emancipate NC, says HB 237 actually weakens our democracy. (Photo: Ahmed Jallow)
Dawn Blagrove, Executive Director of Emancipate NC, said HB 237 actually weakens democracy. (Photo: Ahmed Jallow)