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@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

He's given more than $5M to NC political campaigns, but no one's saying what he wants

Posted July 17, 2018 1:45 p.m. EDT
Updated July 17, 2018 6:46 p.m. EDT

— The most generous donor in North Carolina politics gave even more in the last few months, bankrolling a new political committee and donating six figures to both the state Republican and Democratic parties.

Greg Lindberg, a Durham investor largely unknown to North Carolina politicos until he started writing eye-popping checks, has given more than $5.2 million to state political campaigns in the last two and a half years. He has largely favored Republican causes and is, by far, the state GOP's largest donor in years, according to campaign filings through June 30.

But with the $250,000 check Lindberg wrote to the North Carolina Democratic Party in May, he also became that party's second-largest donor this year and its largest in-state. No. 1 is Reid Garrett Hoffman, LinkedIn's chairman, who lives in California and gave the state party $500,000 in May.

One of Lindberg's companies, Eli Research, gave another $250,000 to the Democratic Party's building committee, an entity that pays for capital expenses and, unlike most political committees in North Carolina, can accept unlimited donations from companies. Lindberg's donation is nearly everything the committee has raised this year.

All told, he has given $1.45 million to state-level political committees just this year.

Lindberg has declined repeated interview requests. He agreed to review a list of emailed questions from WRAL News for this article but declined to answer them.

State voting records indicate Lindberg has voted once in North Carolina, in the 2016 general elections. He's registered as unaffiliated.

Lindberg is also Lt. Gov. Dan Forest's biggest donor, giving $2.4 million to a pair of political groups that support him and can take unlimited donations. Forest, a presumed GOP candidate in the 2020 gubernatorial race, has declined to discuss Lindberg's intentions.

"While we appreciate his support, if your goal is to ascertain Mr. Lindberg's goals, you would need to talk with him," Forest Chief of Staff Hal Weatherman said in an email. "Wouldn't be our place to do so."

Lindberg gave $500,000 last month to a new entity: the NC Growth and Prosperity Committee. Its purpose isn't clear, but its treasurer is John Palermo, chairman of the Chatham County Republican Party and an executive at Lindberg's firm, Eli Global.

Lindberg also gave the Chatham County GOP $100,000 in April.

Eli Global invests in a number of insurance entities, including some regulated by the state. One of them, Global Bankers Insurance Group, listed four lobbyists in North Carolina registration records this year, and it has had formal representation at the statehouse since 2017.

In his online biography, Lindberg describes Eli Global as a federation of independent companies with more than 7,000 employees and revenue of $1.75 billion. He is from California, and he graduated from Yale University with a degree in economics, the biography states.

Lindberg's first donations in North Carolina came in February 2016 and went to Wayne Goodwin, who was insurance commissioner at the time. Goodwin lost re-election in 2016 and now heads the state Democratic Party. In addition to giving to Goodwin's campaign, Lindberg bankrolled a PAC called the N.C. Opportunity Committee, which produced pro-Goodwin commercials ahead of the 2016 elections.

Palermo was treasurer of that group as well, and it filed closeout paperwork in May, about a month before NC Growth and Prosperity was created.

Goodwin has declined to talk about Lindberg, citing a blanket policy on discussing donors. The same goes for state GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse. Palermo did not return messages.

After current Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey beat Goodwin in 2016, Lindberg donated $5,000 to Causey's campaign. The commissioner returned it, saying earlier this year he did so "out of an abundance of caution" because his department regulates some of Lindberg's companies.

In addition to funding Forest's Truth & Prosperity PAC, Lindberg is the No. 1 funder, by far, for the N.C. Republican Council of State Committee, a fundraising vehicle Forest heads. That group got more active in the last three months, gearing up a Facebook advertising campaign, at least some of which highlighted Forest's participation in a recent press conference and rally for hog farmers targeted by nuisance lawsuits over hog waste.

At the national level, Federal Election Commission records indicate Lindberg has given six figures this year to the Republican National Committee as well as to the National Republican Congressional Committee and the New Republican PAC, which is working to elect Rick Scott to the U.S. Senate out of Florida.

He has also given U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, a Democrat in Pennsylvania. In North Carolina, he's given to the campaigns for 6th District Congressman Mark Walker and 8th District Congressman Richard Hudson, both Republicans.

This is all in addition to the more than $5 million he has given to state-level political campaigns in North Carolina.

Other entities he's given to at the federal level include:

  • American Growth and Opportunity Committee, which has the same address as Eli Global in Durham. Palermo is the committee's treasurer.
  • Good Day PAC, which is a leadership PAC tied to Lamb.
  • Win in 2018, a joint fundraising committee that benefits the National Republican Congressional Committee and various state Republican parties.
  • Pennsylvania's state Republican party.

Though many of Eli Global's businesses list Durham addresses, the operation is international in scope and includes a debt collection group in Pennsylvania named Credit Management Company.

Longtime North Carolina politicos, some who have gotten money from Lindberg and some who haven't, either don't know what he wants or aren't saying. Publicly, there is only speculation. Many say they hardly know him.

"He impressed upon me that he supports pro-business candidates and pro-business ideas," said state Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, whose campaign got $5,200 – the maximum allowed – from Lindberg last year. Lewis said he met Lindberg once.

Lindberg's wife, Tisha, has given smaller donations, totaling about $21,000, to some of the same North Carolina political committees going back to 2008. Causey's campaign also returned a $5,000 contribution from her last year.

Some of Lindberg's giving centers on Durham, where he lists his home address. Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said Lindberg has been "active and engaged" with Democrats, "but I don't know of any agenda that he has or anything that he’s expecting.”

“He seems to be a reasonable, open-minded, approachable kind of guy," McKissick said. “I don’t think he wants anything, to be honest. I think he’s just interested in the political process.”