FIGHTING PUBLIC CORRUPTION
ATTORNEY GENERAL ROY COOPER
JAN. 26, 2006
Stopping public corruption and restoring the people’s faith in government starts with rooting out wrongdoers and continues by requiring more disclosure by public officials. Stronger investigative tools, clear disclosure and tough penalties for deceit will keep the public’s business out in the open and make it less likely to be a target of improper influence and corruption.
Because accusations of official wrongdoing can be challenging to uncover and often difficult to prove, law enforcement officers and prosecutors need better tools. By requiring uniform disclosure by public officials, making the budget process more open and by setting tough penalties for lying and double-dealing, those in charge of running our government will be held to higher standards. Giving investigators the strongest possible tools to uncover the truth will assure everyone that public corruption will be rooted out and prosecuted.
Attorney General Roy Cooper makes the following proposals:
I.Allow state prosecutors to use an investigative grand jury to uncover public corruption.
This tool would allow state prosecutors to convene a grand jury to question witnesses under oath, subpoena records and deliberate evidence of wrongdoing by officials. A grand jury allows prosecutors to subpoena witnesses who otherwise might refuse to cooperate with an investigation. Federal authorities now have the power to convene a grand jury for public corruption, but state prosecutors don’t. This authority can help root out corruption at all levels of government.
II.Make lying to an SBI agent a felony.
In just the past five years, the NC Attorney General’s office and the State Bureau of Investigation have investigated more than 350 public corruption cases involving all manner of public officials, including Council of State members, legislators, judges, district attorneys, sheriffs and other law enforcement officials, county commissioners, city council members and more. State prosecutors usually call on the SBI to investigate these cases and often ask the Attorney General to prosecute them because of local conflicts of interest. Although many of these cases have resulted in successful prosecutions, SBI agents have seen that witnesses have sometimes withheld information or lied outright. When an FBI agent is present during an interview a witness can be charged with a crime, since federal law makes it a felony to lie to federal agents. Truth telling should be uniform.
III. Strengthen financial disclosure requirements for public officials with tough penalties for deception.
The public should know about their leaders, potential conflicts and all.
All state elected officials, their key appointed employees and candidates for office such as the Governor, Lt. Governor, Council of State, members of the legislature, judges, district attorneys, along with members of boards and commissions, university chancellors and community college presidents should be required by law to complete the state Economic Interest form.
Currently, there is no law requiring that economic interest statements be completed by all officials and candidates for office. The system in place now includes a patchwork group of public officials, some of whom are covered by the Governor’s Executive Order and some who just voluntarily do it. Some make no disclosures at all. There are also no real penalties for deceit. This new proposal would establish a uniform system of reporting by all of these public officials, candidates and key appointed employees.
The public has a right to know if a government official or a candidate for office has economic interests which could be a conflict of interest.
Those who intentionally omit or only partially disclose information in order to enrich themselves or their businesses would be guilty of a felony.
IV. Tell the public about state budget proposals.
A proposal inserted in the state budget without debate or public input is bad business. Spending taxpayer money without deliberation and sunshine on the process plants seeds of doubt in the mind of the public about influence and power for those who know how to work the system.
The Legislature should enact the following safeguards in order to ensure a more thorough debate on budget proposals:
A. Reserve funds should be detailed by specific legislation, approved by the appropriate committee and then included in an Appropriations Act for approval.
B. The creation of state jobs should be limited to the request of the Office of the Governor through a recommended budget, the request of state agencies or by an act of the General Assembly through the full appropriations process.
C. Legislative committee financial reports should have specific information that would indicate which legislator or legislators requested the appropriation in order to disclose legislator-initiated projects.