Politics & Government

Indicted political donor gave money to NC candidates from mayor to Congress

The North Carolina political donor at the center of a federal grand jury indictment has in recent years given millions of dollars to a range of candidates — both Republicans and Democrats — running for elected positions at the local, state and federal levels.

Greg Lindberg, indicted on charges of bribery and conspiracy, alongside North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes and two others this week, had been under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office starting in 2018, court records show.

The indictment alleges Lindberg offered to support N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, a Republican, with $2 million toward his statewide campaign in exchange for special treatment for Lindberg’s business. Prosecutors say the alleged bribery scheme occurred between April 2017 and August 2018.

Around the same time, campaign finance records show Lindberg was a prolific donor to a range of politicians — from a Democrat running for mayor in Durham to Republicans running for Congress.

From 2016 to 2018, Lindberg donated just over $7.5 million to both super PACs and state and federal political committees, according to campaign finance records filed with the NC State Board of Elections and the Federal Election Commission.

The largest of those donations included $1 million in December 2017 to Truth and Prosperity Committee, an N.C. super political action committee for which Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has raised money, and a total of $1.4 million to the N.C. Republican Council of State Committee, which Forest chairs. That same committee reported in-kind expenditures of $48,582 to the Committee to Elect Dan Forest from April to November in 2018.

A Forest spokesman said Tuesday following the indictment of Lindberg that the lieutenant governor was not interviewed or subpoenaed during the investigation into bribery and conspiracy. Hal Weatherman, chair of Forest’s exploratory committee to run for governor, said Forest’s official campaign had not received contributions from Lindberg.

In a statement, Forest said of Hayes, Lindberg and others: “I know these men and consider most of them friends. I have read the indictments and they are very troubling. I believe in the presumption of innocence and thus will withhold judgment. But I agree with the rule of law and if laws were broken, then justice should be served. They are facing serious charges.”

Lindberg also gave the N.C. Republican Executive Committee nearly $1.5 million during that same time period. An additional $500,000 went to the N.C. Growth and Prosperity committee, an independent expenditure committee.

Other donations Lindberg made to Republican entities included: the New Republican PAC, a super PAC to support Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. ($300,000); Win in 2018, a joint fundraising committee to support U.S. House Republicans ($209,200); Mark Walker Victory Committee, in support of U.S. Rep. Walker, R-N.C. ($150,000); and the Republican National Committee ($101,700).

Lindberg gave to Senate Democrats

Lindberg’s donations went beyond Republicans. He gave $500,000 to the state Democratic Executive committee and contributed $33,900 to the fundraising arm of U.S. Senate Democrats, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in July 2018. And in April 2018, according to FEC records, he gave $10,000 to a North Carolina Democratic Party federal political action committee.

Lindberg’s donations in 2018 also went to Democratic U.S. Reps. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., and Charlie Crist, D-Fla., as well as Act Blue, which supports progressive Democrats running for office.

Bob Hall, former director of Democracy NC — a government watchdog group — says he’s totaled at least another half-million dollars in recent campaign contributions to North Carolina politicians, given by Lindberg’s family members or close business associates.

Hall said in a statement Tuesday: “To avoid being linked to Lindberg’s apparent use of campaign money to buy political favors, I would urge politicians and partisan committees to send amounts equal to Lindberg’s donations to the State Board of Elections for deposit in the public school forfeiture fund.”

Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat, agreed, saying Wednesday Democratic candidates as well as the Democratic Party should return any money received from Lindberg. Lindberg’s other support of Democrats includes past donations to Farad Ali, former Durham City Council member and mayoral candidate, and former Insurance Commissioner and chair of the N.C. Democratic Party Wayne Goodwin.

“It’s really important to avoid the perception of tainted campaign funds,” Jackson said. Jackson’s comments came at a news conference where Democrats in the House and Senate discussed a new Senate bill that includes optional public financing for candidates running for legislature, governor or other state executive offices.

Senate Democrats filed the bill the day after indictments were unsealed against Hayes, Lindberg and two others.

“I don’t think that there is any even allegation yet that anyone on the Democratic side accepted contributions with any bit of illegal taint to them,” said Rep. Graig Meyer, an Orange County Democrat. “There’s clearly been a federal investigation and an indictment now of the Republican Party leadership for participating in a bribery scheme. There are donations to Democrats, and if they are legal, then they are legal. There is a difference between legal and illegal, no matter who the donor is.”

One Republican, who received $5,200 from Lindberg in 2017, says he has never even met Lindberg or had any conversations with him.

At a press conference Wednesday, N.C. Sen. Brent Jackson was asked about the donation and whether Lindberg had ever asked him for anything in return.

“Never seen him in person, never had any correspondence with him,” Jackson said. “We were having a (fundraising) dinner one night and when we went through the checks, there was a check in there.”

As far as Jackson could recall, he said, Lindberg had not personally attended that event.

“I have never had any contact with him whatsoever,” Jackson told reporters.

Amid calls by some Democrats Wednesday that elected officials should return or donate Lindberg’s past political contributions, Jackson said he would wait to see more from the grand jury and court proceedings. If leaders on both sides of the aisle decided it best to return or donate the funds, Jackson said, he would do the same.

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Anna Douglas is an investigative reporter for the Charlotte Observer. Previously, she worked as a local news reporter for The (Rock Hill) Herald and as a congressional correspondent in Washington, D.C., for McClatchy. Anna is a past recipient of the South Carolina Press Association’s Journalist of the Year award and the Charlotte Society of Professional Journalists’ Outstanding Journalism Award. She’s a South Carolina native, a graduate of Winthrop University, and a past fellow of the Dori Maynard Diversity Leadership Program, sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists. Anna has lived in Charlotte since May 2017.