GOP complaint: HB2 forum will be an ‘infomercial’ for Roy Cooper

A key provision of HB2 overturns a Charlotte ordinance that let transgender people use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.
A key provision of HB2 overturns a Charlotte ordinance that let transgender people use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. AP

The North Carolina Republican Party has filed an elections board complaint against the Charlotte Observer and others who are planning a public forum about House Bill 2, alleging that the event will serve as an “infomercial” for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper.

On Wednesday night, the Observer plans to host a forum on HB2, the controversial law that limits protections to people who are gay or transgender.

The forum, which is sponsored by Charlotte-area marketing firm Red Ventures, is scheduled to include gay and transgender advocates as well as former Republican Charlotte mayor Richard Vinroot and Mitch Kokai of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank.

In a complaint filed Tuesday, the state GOP is asking the North Carolina elections board to launch an investigation and force the cancellation of the forum.

The elections board has notified Cooper’s campaign and the state Democratic party that they have until 3 p.m. on Thursday to respond.

The complaint alleges that the forum’s “proximity in time to the general election and its focus on an issue repeatedly raised by the democrat party and Roy Cooper belies the true purpose and motivation behind the event.”

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who is seeking reelection, has defended HB2. Cooper, however, has called for the law to be repealed, saying it has caused significant economic damage.

Red Ventures CEO Ric Elias and his wife, Brenda, have contributed $20,400 to Cooper’s campaign during the 2016 primary and general election cycles, the complaint notes. Elias also gave $1,000 to McCrory.

The Observer’s editorial board has endorsed Cooper, in addition to 25 other Democrats and 10 Republicans.

Observer Executive Editor Rick Thames said, “It’s ludicrous to suggest that this is anything other than a forum to help voters.

“We’ve made every effort possible to make this a forum that represents all views.”

The Observer’s newsroom determined the content of the forum without any influence from Red Ventures, Thames said.

Elias, the Red Ventures CEO, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The complaint also names Cooper’s campaign, the N.C. Democrat Committee and Public Policy Polling (PPP), a company that the GOP alleges is “openly biased toward the democrat party.”

The event is expected to feature PPP data about HB2. Polls by the Raleigh-based company have found that most North Carolinians oppose the bill.

Michael Weisel, a Raleigh attorney who represents PPP, said the complaint fails to allege any conduct that violates campaign finance law.

Staff writer Gavin Off contributed.

Ames Alexander: 704-358-5060, @amesalex