North Carolina is amongst several states that have received grants from the United Nations Foundation (UNF) for supporting climate initiatives and staff positions on climate policy. UNF grants have been received by the Governor’s office, the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the North Carolina Department of Commerce for the purposes of advancing UNF initiatives.

According to Fox News, North Carolina has been the largest beneficiary of the funding scheme, receiving nearly $1.2 million in US Climate Alliance grants sent to the three executive agencies. The grants are distributed as part of the US Climate Alliance’s Climate Leadership Grant Program, according to Alliance spokesman Evan Westrup, “which bolsters state-level staff capacity to help Alliance members advance climate priorities, deploy federal funds, and take durable and equitable climate action.”

The positions supported by the grants are “managed solely by the individual states, not the Alliance or UN Foundation,” according to Westrup.

The US Climate Alliance was founded in 2017 by the governors of New York, Washington, and California following former President Donald Trump’s decision to suspend the United States’ participation in the Paris Climate Accords. Cooper, who joined in 2017, is now one of 24 US governors who have joined the coalition. It is described on their website as “a bipartisan coalition of governors securing America’s net-zero future by advancing state-led, high-impact climate action.” Notably, the North Carolina Legislature has never voted to join the alliance, or to support its agenda.

“The United Nations Foundation funneling $1.19 million into North Carolina for influencing the policy of our state raises serious concerns about the potential of unaccountable bureaucrats bypassing the legislature’s budgeting power to push political agendas,” a spokesperson for Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson told Fox News. “Transparency is crucial – we need clear answers on how the funds are utilized. Currently, there’s unease that the money might be funding salaries for state officials involved in developing climate policies,” the statement continued. “It’s essential to ensure that the government officials tasked with crafting policies to benefit North Carolinians are accountable to the taxpayers, not beholden to global activist organizations promoting agendas.”

The Office of Governor Roy Cooper received $292,677 earmarked for “environment” according to 2020 tax filings. In 2021, the North Carolina Department of Commerce received $144, 949 earmarked for “environment,” the NCDOT received $315,980 earmarked for “UN Strengthening,” and the governor’s office received $264,765 earmarked for “UN Strengthening.” The numbers for the grants received by the governor’s office in 2020 and 2021 are not only available in the tax filings but are also confirmed by a public records request obtained by Government Accountability & Oversight (GAO). 

Additionally, listed on the UNF 2021 tax filings is an item listed as “Office of the Governor” for a grant of $173,312, earmarked for “environment”; however, it does not identify which governor the funds to which the funds were distributed. The GAO discovered that it went to Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina. This is in addition to the $264,765 clearly marked to for Cooper’s office in 2021 filings. The grants that North Carolina departments received from UNF in 2021 totaled $899,006. Between the 2020 and 2021 tax years the total amount of all grants was approximately $1.2 million.

Records obtained by the GAO indicate that these grants could extend as far back as Governor Easley’s administration. A document obtained from the Office of the State Controller dated December of 2001 lists the contacts for the year’s 1099 processing activities. Included on that list is Becky Medlin, a staff member for Democrat Gov. Mike Easley.

The grants provided by the UNF are earmarked for funding climate initiatives and the salaries of energy policy staffers in governor’s offices, “…where they would be running the money and at least in one instance the hiring process through the World Resources Institute (WRI),” according to a 2018 report entitled, “Government for Rent,” by Chris Horner, a former senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  

The grant received by NCDOT “paid the salary of a Clean Transportation Plan coordinator, the development of a study and toolkit on reducing vehicle miles traveled, and a webinar NCDOT hosted on the study and the toolkit,” Jamie Kritzer, Assistant Director of Communications for NCDOT told the Carolina Journal in an email.

The Department of Commerce grant was “…used to help us establish a new position in the Department of Commerce, our Assistant Secretary for Clean Energy Economic Development, and supported that position in its first year. This position has focused on the Governor’s clean energy economic development goals, identifying and implementing policies and programs to increase economic development and workforce opportunities in the clean energy sector of the economy,” David Rhoades, Communications Director for the NCDOC, told the Carolina Journal in an email.

“On their face, these arrangements raise legal and ethical concerns and suggest an inherent conflict of interest, one that the rational person would conclude is inadvisable and surely impermissible,” Chris Horner, an attorney representing both GAO and Power the Future in open records pursuits, told the Carolina Journal in an email. “The appearance of conflict is inescapable if we summon a counterfactual: If it is permissible for a government agency to give donor-provided ‘staff’ office space, a computer, and participation in official business then an industry group, a pro-fossil fuel group say, or the Charles Koch Foundation and America First Legal, can staff officials’ offices.”

Chris Horner told CJ that Governor Cooper has failed at avoiding even the appearance of conflict.

“It would be quite a coup if one of those other groups were to provide senior staff professionals to draft analyses and provide legal advice to a PUC Commissioner, Governor, AG, or DoT official with a different political affiliation. Fainting couches would overflow, Pulitzers would rain from the sky. So the implication is there are either double standards for Gov. Cooper, or no standards at all,” said Horner.

“We’ve brought people together to plot our course to a lower cost, net-zero carbon future, to cleaner transportation, and toward more renewable energy like wind and solar power. With challenges like jobs and climate change, you can only make progress when you set ambitious goals. And we’re taking action to reach those goals, because progress is never passive,” said Gov. Cooper. 

Neither the offices of Gov. Roy Cooper nor Attorney General Josh Stein, a leading Democrat gubernatorial candidate, responded to requests for comment on this story.