Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill Friday that he said would keep voters in the dark and allow anonymous out-of-state billionaires to flood North Carolina with campaign contributions to “extreme right-wing candidates.”

H.B. 237, Various Criminal and Election Law Changes, restricts the wearing of face masks in public as a way to hide a criminal’s identity. The bill also adjusts campaign finance laws in North Carolina.

On June 11, House Democrats stalled a vote for nearly an hour in opposition to legislation cracking down on masking in public. House Republicans passed the bill later that afternoon, securing approval among both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly. 

The bill passed the House on a 69-43 vote along party lines, following the Senate’s approval the previous week. 

It was ratified and sent to Cooper the next day.

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

Rep. Grey Mills, R-Iredell, insisted that it doesn’t open the door to dark money, as Democrats have been claiming. According to an article from Jim Stirling of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity at the John Locke Foundation, the bill puts national political parties on more equal footing, potentially limiting the fundraising advantage that Democrats had enjoyed in recent years.

Responding to Cooper’s veto, Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, said in a statement, “Bad actors have been using masks to conceal their identity when they commit crimes and intimidate the innocent. Instead of helping put an end to this threatening behavior, the governor wants to continue encouraging these thugs by giving them more time to hide from the consequences of their actions. I look forward to casting a vote to override this veto and allowing those with actual health concerns to protect themselves and others.”

The bill specifically allows individuals to wear “a medical or surgical grade mask for the purpose of preventing the spread of contagious disease.”

The legislation would also enhance sentencing if a defendant is convicted of committing a misdemeanor or felony while wearing a mask or other clothing to conceal their identity. Protesters who willfully stand in the middle of a highway blocking traffic will be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor under the bill.

In addition to masking laws, the bill includes language surrounding campaign finance law changes unrelated to the core of the legislation. While it does not modify how much money candidate committees or political parties may receive, it does modify how federal campaign and national political party committees (527 committees) may operate in the state. 

SEE ALSO: Mask ban resurfaces with unrelated campaign finance reforms

Republicans say the bill is intended to make it equal for both parties, but Democrats see it as changing the rules during an election year. Many Democrats spoke on the House floor and expressed anger over the move, alleging that the draft was worse than before because the finance law was added. They said the two subject matters within one bill are murky politics, comparing it to mixing apples with oranges.

Republicans have veto-proof supermajorities in both the House and Senate.