Cooper campaign returns PAC contribution after WBTV investigation

RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - Roy Cooper's campaign has returned a contribution from a political action committee following an On Your Side investigation.

The contribution in question was made by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an environmental group primarily active in Florida that also has limited staff in North Carolina.

North Carolina law allows campaigns to accept money only from political action committees that are registered with the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

A review of NCSBE records revealed that the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Action Fund was not registered in the state.

"The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a registered federal committee but is not registered with the SBOE," Cooper campaign spokesman Ford Porter wrote in an email to On Your Side Investigates after we asked about the contribution. "Their contribution of $1,000 has been returned."

Stephen Smith, who is executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, confirmed the Cooper campaign had returned the contribution.

"It was a total oversight on our part. Cooper has returned the check to us and we, basically, did not understand the rules," Smith said. "We made a mistake about the rules because we work in multiple states and it was our fault."

A review of campaign finance records submitted by both the Cooper and McCrory campaigns show political action committees made significant contributions to both parties.

Records show McCrory collected at least $567,652 from PACs while cooper collected $301,482 from outside groups.

Totals for both candidates amount to a small fraction of the millions of dollars raised by both campaigns. But Professor Eric Heberlig, who studies campaign contributions at UNC Charlotte, said political action committees contribute to campaigns with an eye to the future.

"The reason political action committees exist is to give the organizations, mostly interest groups or organizations, the ability to get their voice heard politically," Heberlig said. "So, their attitude is if we give them money, they're more likely to return our phone calls, they're more likely to allow us to come in and talk to them."

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