After N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper spoke publicly Monday about keeping government officials accountable, the N.C. Republican Party is testing him by asking for thousands of records dating back to when Cooper took office in 2001.
In five detailed requests, one for each day of “Sunshine Week,” the party asked for every email and correspondence Cooper and his senior staff sent or received in the past 14 years. It also asked for every Twitter and Facebook message, official appointment, expense report, official opinion and internal memo from the attorney general’s office since 2001.
In addition, the N.C. GOP requested specifics about the operations of the N.C. Department of Justice, the State Bureau of Investigation and the State Crime Lab during the past 14 years.
If the attorney general’s office was put off by the requests, it didn’t let on this week. Spokeswoman Noelle Talley said she couldn’t say how long it would take to fulfill the requests, but said a team of Justice Department employees met to devise a plan and that Cooper’s office will comply.
“We routinely get public records requests, including large ones, and consider fulfilling them to be a part of our jobs,” Talley said.
N.C. GOP Executive Director Todd Poole said the requests were made in the spirit of Sunshine Week to promote a dialogue about what the government is doing.
“Frankly, we are not sure what we are going to find with these requests,” Poole said. “But we think the public has a right to know what the attorney general has been doing the last 14 years.”
Speaking at the N.C. Open Government Coalition’s Sunshine Day event on Monday, Cooper said public officials have a responsibility to produce records in a timely fashion without charging fees.
“Access to public information is a real foundation of our freedom,” he said. “North Carolina has a tradition of putting government out in the sunshine. The light of public scrutiny protects people.”
Though he has not officially announced his campaign for governor, Cooper, a Democrat, is widely expected to run against Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016.
The N.C. GOP claims that Cooper is a hypocrite when it comes to government transparency because he defended former Gov. Mike Easley and his administration in a lawsuit by media outlets that claimed Easley violated the state’s public records law by instructing staff to systematically delete emails.
The state Democratic Party says the sweeping records requests made by Republicans are just an attempt to shift attention away from McCrory, who is under criticism for amending his required ethics disclosure forms several times to show previously unreported trips and Duke Energy stock holdings.
“It’s become clear over the past several months that Gov. McCrory has a serious ethics problem,” Democratic Party spokesman Ford Porter said. “Now, the governor’s team’s frantic search for a distraction proves that the real issue is ‘What else hasn’t Gov. McCrory been telling us?’”
While the GOP request is a large one, media lawyer Brandon Huffman of Raleigh said the law doesn’t have a provision for the reasonableness of a request. It is simply up to the government entity to comply.
“In this case, it doesn’t seem like they are looking for anything specific,” Huffman said.
He said a request of the scope the GOP has made will probably require the involvement of someone from every office of the agency.
“Some of these records, if they go back 14 years, have probably been destroyed,” he said.
The N.C. Republican Party requested the complete records of the following from 2001 to present:
- Sent and received email from Cooper’s official attorney general email address
- Email relating to official work from any of Cooper’s private email addresses
- All correspondence between the attorney general’s office and any member of the state legislature, including official opinions requested by a member of the legislature
- All correspondence between the attorney general’s office and the governor and lieutenant governor offices of Bev Perdue, Mike Easley, and Walter Dalton, including official opinions.
- Cooper’s official calendar from 2001 to present, including his official travel records
- Emails sent and received by three of the general attorney’s senior staffers
- Email between five additional senior staffers and members of the state legislature and their staff
- The official calendars, expense reports and official business phone records from all eight senior staffers
- A list of all publicly available information on employees of the NC Department of Justice, the State Bureau of Investigation and the State Crime Lab, including job title, salary and raise information
- Direct Twitter messages received and sent by @NCAGO
- Messages received and sent from the attorney general’s official Facebook page
- Settlement documents from suits naming the DOJ or state of North Carolina
- Documents relating to any administrative proceedings or arbitration brought by any DOJ employees
- Official documents relating to destruction of emails or other web-based data during the Easley Administration
- Documents relating to application, employment, hiring or firing of Mary Easley from NC State University or other state public position
- Personal service contracts entered into by the DOJ
- Budgets from all divisions of the DOJ with line items
- Lists of DOJ employee email addresses
- Names and job descriptions for senior level DOJ staff hired since January 2010
- Access to internal memoranda, emails and working files for the DOJ and attorney general’s office pertaining to the Duke University Lacrosse team “scandal” and the Oct. 21, 2009 memo from Kathryn Jones Cooper to Debra Watts titled “Interpretation of 15A NCAC 2L.0106 for Ash Ponds”
- Working emails and files for any investigations into N.C. voter fraud
- All talking points, fact sheets, background briefings and press packets prepared for the attorney general, the director of the State Board of Investigation, or any other senior staffer in the N.C. DOJ
- Memos between Cooper and his senior staff and the senior staff of the State Bureau of Investigations
- Any written media inquiries relating to concerns about the State Bureau of Investigation
- Any audits conducted internally or by outside groups regarding performance or problems at the N.C. DOJ or the State Bureau of Investigation
- Any correspondence between Cooper and the U.S. attorney general and the Federal Department of Justice