State Politics

Berger says governor is defying court order with Ethics Commission appointment

Berger reacts to 3 judge panel ruling on elections board and ethics commission earlier this year

Video: Senate Bill 68 combines the current State Ethics Commission and State Board of Elections into a single board. It is headed to the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper, who has said he would veto it.
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Video: Senate Bill 68 combines the current State Ethics Commission and State Board of Elections into a single board. It is headed to the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper, who has said he would veto it.

Senate leader Phil Berger blasted Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday afternoon for appointing a new chairwoman for the state’s Ethics Commission.

Cooper appointed longtime Ethics Commisioner Jane Finch, a Democrat who has served on the commission and its predecessor board since 1993. She’ll replace Republican John Branch, who was appointed by then-Gov. Pat McCrory in December.

But Finch’s appointment comes amid legal confusion from Cooper’s lawsuit challenging a December special session law that combines the Ethics Commission and State Board of Elections.

While Cooper contends that court orders are preventing the law from taking effect – a scenario that would allow the governor to make appointments – Berger said Thursday that an N.C. Court of Appeals order means that the state doesn’t currently have an Ethics Commission.

Berger issued a news release Friday arguing that Cooper can’t appoint a chair for a commission that doesn’t exist.

“Gov. Roy Cooper has brazenly defied an order of the State Court of Appeals by attempting to name a chair of the State Ethics Commission that no longer exists,” Berger said. “Cooper’s repeated unethical actions make clear why he sued to block the new bipartisan board that would have replaced it and is attempting to maintain total control of ethics oversight of elected officials, and we are conferring with our attorneys about appropriate options to hold him accountable for violating this court order.”

Cooper’s spokespeople did not immediately respond to an inquiry about Berger’s statement. But on Thursday, Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said that the courts “have all made clear their desire for the status quo to be maintained until this case is decided. We don’t believe the Court of Appeals had any intention of eliminating either the Board of Elections or Ethics Commission as that would not make sense.”

Asked about the effect of the N.C. Court of Appeals order, State Board of Elections attorney Josh Lawson said Friday that “we read the order to affirm our legislature’s right to legislate and our board’s right to enforce election law.”

Had the new law taken effect, Cooper would not be able to appoint members of the new ethics and elections board for months.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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