Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper and key members of his administration are at an annual meeting this week in Pinehurst for a left-leaning dark money group.
Moving North Carolina Forward lists Cooper as its headliner for the two-day gathering, along with Attorney General Josh Stein, Cooper's health and human services secretary, his transportation secretary and his state budget director. An invitation obtained by WRAL News doesn't suggest donation amounts for attendees, as political fundraisers often do, but it does give an address where money can be sent and notes that contributions are not tax-deductible as charitable contributions.
Money goes to the group's "mission of advocating for policies that advance growth, stronger schools, tolerance and fair legal electoral districts," the invitation states. The group is a 501(c)(4) under the U.S. tax code and does not have to disclose its donors.
Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said the governor isn't fundraising. He was due at the conference only for lunch on Friday.
"The governor is speaking to the conference, and he is not involved in any fundraising," Porter said in an email.
Stein's office characterized his involvement in much the same way.
"Attorney General Stein is attending tomorrow’s event in Pinehurst exclusively for the panel he’ll speak on," spokeswoman Laura Brewer said in an email Thursday evening. "He’ll drive down tomorrow morning to speak about confronting the opioid epidemic – which has been a top priority of his since he became AG – and head straight back to Raleigh to continue to work to mitigate the impact of the massive, shortsighted cuts to the Department of Justice’s budget."
The legislature's Republican majority approved the $10 million cut earlier this week in a budget passed over Cooper's veto. Stein has said the smaller budget will force him to lay off 123 attorneys who handle appeals of criminal prosecutions and defend the state in lawsuits.
Moving North Carolina Forward was incorporated at the end of last year by long-time Democratic Party donors. It's not unlike Renew North Carolina, which raised money through conferences that featured former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and ran television ads starring the governor during his term.
There are more than 100 bills from the legislative session that ended in the wee hours of Friday morning sitting on Cooper's desk, awaiting his signature or veto.
This the second major event of the year featuring Cooper for Moving North Carolina Forward. In late March, the group offered donors the chance to mingle with Cooper and his leadership team at an event that promised "policy talks" and suggested donations from $10,000 and $100,000.
Tom Hendrickson, one of the founders, said the group plans to have three meetings a year.
As a social welfare nonprofit, the group is able to carry out campaign-like activities without the disclosure rules and donation limits attached to political action committees. Campaign finance advocates frequently call these "dark money" groups because the public doesn't know who funds them. They've become fairly common in modern politics.
"It's a part of what we have in our political system today," said Bob Phillips, the executive director of good-government advocacy group Common Cause North Carolina.
Asked whether the group will voluntarily release a donor list, Hendrickson said that hasn't been discussed.
"We will fully comply with the law," he said.
WRAL reporter Tyler Dukes contributed to this report.
This post has been corrected. It initially misdescribed North Carolina campaign finance laws as related to contributions durnig a regular legislative session.