Let the SBI complete its investigation

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If there’s an argument to be made for a major restructuring of North Carolina state government, that issue should be taken up in a “long session” of the N.C. General Assembly – when lawmakers have time to consider the larger ramifications of their actions.

It should not be hurriedly scribbled into a state budget during an election year. And it certainly shouldn’t have a major impact on an agency that currently is investigating campaign donations to members of the General Assembly.

Yet, that’s what North Carolina lawmakers seem bound and determined to do this summer. Sections of the budget proposals submitted by both the N.C. Senate and the N.C. House would take the State Bureau of Investigation out of the N.C. Attorney General’s office and put it under the umbrella of the governor.

There might be an argument to be made for considering such a change in calmer times. But at the moment, the SBI is investigating campaign contributions made to N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis (who also is running for the U.S. Senate), N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and Gov. Pat McCrory.

The investigation revolves around campaign contributions they and other lawmakers – including some Democrats – took from donors who are involved with the video sweepstakes industry.

Internet cafes and video poker machines have been contentious issues in the legislature and in North Carolina courts. The hundreds of thousands of dollars pumped into campaign coffers by video sweepstakes donors has triggered investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and the N.C. State Board of Elections, as well.

Berger protests that the SBI’s revelation of an investigation into key leaders of state government suggests that the agency is on a witch hunt instigated by N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who plans to challenge McCrory for the governor’s mansion in 2016.

But given the controversy surrounding the video sweepstakes contributions and the investigations already launched by other agencies, the SBI would be shirking its duty if it did not look into the matter. And Berger sets himself up for accusations of political manipulation on his own by seeking to put the SBI under McCrory’s control.

Let the SBI do its work and wrap up the campaign contributions investigation. If there’s a need to move supervision of the SBI to the governor, surely, that proposal can be considered in less contentious times.

Editor's note: This editorial has been updated to clarify that the investigation centers on campaign contributions made to members of the General Assembly and the governor – not the officials themselves.