In veto, Roy Cooper says masking bill includes ‘gaping loophole’ for secret campaign cash

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed a bill (HB 237) passed by Republican lawmakers that both restricts public mask wearing and unshackles outside campaign donors from pouring money into state elections.

The measure would have changed COVID-era rules allowing public masking for health reasons and, in a section tacked on by Republicans as the bill wound its way through the Legislature, would have allowed unlimited campaign contributions from national campaign committees to state candidates.

“This legislation creates a gaping loophole for secret, unlimited campaign money in the middle of an election year,” Cooper said in a veto message.

“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. The legislation also removes protections and threatens criminal charges for people who want to protect their health by wearing a mask.”

Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers of the Statehouse, allowing them to override the Friday veto. An override is likely, as Speaker of the House Tim Moore, a Republican representing Rutherford and Cleveland counties, told his chamber on Thursday to expect votes reversing Cooper’s various vetoes next week.

The bill passed the House and then the Senate in the first week of June. Democrats widely panned the measure, before the campaign finance provision was added, as an assault on peaceful protest. Widespread backlash to a ban on masking for any reason, including to prevent disease transmission resulted in a watered down alteration of existing law allowing wearing “medical or surgical grade masks for the purpose of preventing the spread of contagious disease.”

Senate Democrats fled the chamber when the bill came to a vote in protest over the addition of the campaign finance section, which says “it shall be permissible for a federal political committee, as defined by committee organized pursuant to the Federal Election Campaign Act and its regulations adopted pursuant thereto, to make contributions to a North Carolina candidate or political committee” and eliminates limits on those contributions.

Without their votes, the bill still passed the Senate 28-0.

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