@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Big-dollar beneficiaries holding on to indicted political donor's money

Posted July 8, 2019 2:30 p.m. EDT
Updated July 9, 2019 9:41 a.m. EDT

— The biggest recipients of indicted mega-donor Greg Lindberg's political contributions plan to keep his money.

Lindberg gave more than $5 million to North Carolina political campaigns before federal bribery charges were filed against him in March. He's Lt. Gov. Dan Forest's biggest political supporter, has been the North Carolina Republican Party's biggest and was one of the North Carolina Democratic Party's biggest donors in 2018.

But after the Durham investor's indictment, there was some chance the state politicians and committees that benefited from his donations would give the the money up. Several members of Congress promised to donate their Lindberg contributions to charity after the news of the indictment broke.

But with the first state campaign fundraising deadline since the indictment hitting last week, the answer is pretty clear for North Carolina campaigns that got at least six figures: Nope.

"Right now, we're keeping it," Forest said last week.

Lindberg donated $2.4 million over the last few years to a pair of groups supporting Forest and his 2020 run for governor. One is a political action committee called Truth & Prosperity; the other is a fundraising vehicle called the N.C. Republican Council of State Committee.

Truth & Prosperity is an independent PAC, and Forest can't direct its spending, even though he took credit for its fundraising last year after Lindberg's $1 million donation came in. Truth & Prosperity Treasurer William Gupton confirmed Monday that the group hasn't returned any contributions.

Forest chairs the Republican Council of State Committee, and it raises money for Republicans who are elected statewide. In the immediate aftermath of Lindberg's indictment, the lieutenant governor told reporters that the group might – emphasis on the might – give up the $1.4 million Lindberg donated there.

Forest said at the time that the group's leadership needed to discuss it first. He confirmed last week that they met and plan to keep the money.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson is also part of the group, and a spokesman for him also said the group will keep them money. This committee was set up to raise money for all GOP Council of State members, but only Forest and Johnson participate.

Johnson campaign spokesman Johnathan Felts said the committee is "taking a bipartisan approach" on the money.

"(We) agree with NC Democrat officials who accurately described the Lindberg contributions as 'a legal contribution, from a legal donor and legally reported,'" Felts said.

That is indeed how the state Democratic Party described $750,000 that Lindberg and one of his companies gave the party in 2018. A party spokesman confirmed last week that Democrats have no plans to give that money up.

Neither does the state Republican Party, whose former chairman, Robin Hayes, was indicted along with Lindberg and two Lindberg associates. They were accused of plotting to bribe state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, in part by funneling money through the state party.

Lindberg owns a number of insurance companies regulated by Causey's department. Causey turned $240,000 that flowed to his campaign through the state GOP over to the U.S. Marshals Service last fall. The indictment makes it clear he has been working with federal investigators for some time.

State political parties can accept unlimited contributions; candidate committees are limited to $5,400, per donor, per election. Lindberg gave about $1.5 million to the state GOP in 2017 and 2018.

"That money all came in and went back out a long time ago," state GOP attorney Josh Howard said last week. "So, there’s nothing to return.”

Lindberg also gave $290,000 to the House Republican Caucus, which raises money for GOP members of the state House. The money came in from September 2017 to January 2018.

"The House Caucus accepted legal contributions and legally reported them," Caucus Director Stephen Wiley said. "We have no plans to return them at this time."

Similar donations were offered around the same time to a fundraising arm for Senate Republicans, but they were rebuffed. In the legislative session that followed, Lindberg and his associates pitched the General Assembly on changes to state insurance regulations.

Since the indictment, Causey's department has said it will take control of four of Lindberg's insurance companies in the state. A judge signed off on the plan last week, and Causey said in a court filing he has concerns about whether the companies have enough liquidity to meet their obligations.

State campaign records show Lindberg has given at least six-figures to two other entities involved in state politics: the N.C. Opportunity Committee, a PAC that supported then-Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin's unsuccessful 2016 re-election bid, and another PAC called N.C. Growth and Prosperity.

John Palermo, who was indicted with Lindberg, has been treasurer of both groups.

The N.C. Opportunity Committee closed down last year, according to paperwork on file with the state. N.C. Growth and Prosperity was created about a month later, and it was specifically mentioned in the indictment as a vehicle for the group's alleged bribery scheme.

The indictment targets for forfeiture $1.5 million deposited into two accounts held by the group.