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Focus on investor’s political donations after bribery charge

April 4, 2019
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FILE - In this June 3, 2017 file photo North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes speaks during the North Carolina Republican Party State Convention at the Wilmington Convention Center in Wilmington, N.C. Hayes won't seek re-election to the post after all, the former congressman announced Monday, April 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Mike Spencer, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — In return for a promised $2 million payout, federal prosecutors say, the investor who has recently been North Carolina’s biggest political donor wanted something from the state’s top insurance regulator: go easy on his insurance companies.

Now Greg Lindberg is facing bribery and conspiracy charges, and his substantial political donations are under scrutiny. The state Republican Party chairman indicted along with Lindberg, former congressman Robin Hayes, on Wednesday relinquished his party activities to an interim manager until new party elections in June.

Lindberg has contributed more than $7 million since 2016 to state and federal candidates and committees, significantly favoring Republican causes. For example, he gave the North Carolina Republican Party almost $1.5 million in 2017 and 2018, and $500,000 to the state’s Democrats, according to state campaign finance records.

The elected official with potentially the most at risk politically from the indictment is Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is gearing up to challenge Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in 2020. Forest has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Forest hasn’t received a direct campaign donation from Lindberg, but two political committees supporting him or other Republican statewide candidates have received more than $2.4 million from the Durham businessman since early 2017. Forest has taken credit for that fundraising. Employees for Lindberg’s Eli Global LLC and Global Bankers Insurance Group have given more than $11,000 to Forest’s campaign committee within the past three years, finance reports show.

Forest, who was the featured guest in September 2017 when Global Bankers celebrated its corporate headquarters ribbon-cutting in Durham, called the indicted defendants “friends of mine” but said Tuesday the charges had nothing to do with his campaign.

“These were good guys,” Forest said. “This is a bad situation. There’s nothing good about this situation that they find themselves in. Obviously, I believe in justice being done, and we need to certainly follow this process and make sure that justice is done.”

Lindberg gave $1 million in late 2017 to Truth and Prosperity, a super PAC that promoted Forest during his winning 2016 reelection campaign for lieutenant governor, campaign reports show. Truth and Prosperity can receive unlimited amounts of money from individuals or businesses but can’t coordinate spending with Forest. Yet state law allows Forest to raise the money for the super PAC.

Forest campaign spokesman Hal Weatherman said Forest was never interviewed or questioned by investigators. Forest said that Lindberg never asked him for favors and he has no control over what Truth and Prosperity does with the money. A spokesman for Truth and Prosperity didn’t respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday.

In the second half of 2017, Lindberg also gave more than $1.4 million to the NC Republican Council of State Committee, an organization backing GOP candidates for statewide executive office like Forest, according to campaign filings. Forest is chairman of the committee, which collected $1.6 million total during the 2017-18 election cycle. A pro-Forest mailer announcing his “exploratory bid’ for governor this year was paid by the committee. Sixteen of the 20 Facebook ads the committee purchased featured Forest.

Forest said the Council of State committee leaders would have to meet to discuss how to handle Lindberg’s donations.

Lindberg’s money also supported four North Carolina Republicans in the U.S. House. The biggest beneficiary appeared to be Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro, whose campaign and committees backing him got more than $230,000.

Most of that came from a $150,000 Lindberg contribution in February 2018, the only donation of that size from him listed on the Federal Election Commission website. Federal prosecutors said Lindberg made a $150,000 contribution to a political committee backing “Public Official A” on the same February 2018 date he learned the politician was willing to help sway Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey.

Walker’s spokesman, Jack Minor, said Tuesday that he couldn’t confirm if Walker was “Public Official A,” but that Walker was never a target of the investigation.

Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that Causey, a Republican, had alerted law enforcement voluntarily to help them uncover what they label a corruption scheme involving those who were indicted.

One Democrat Lindberg backed was Causey’s predecessor as commissioner, state Democratic Party chairman Wayne Goodwin. Lindberg gave almost $10,000 to Goodwin’s unsuccessful 2016 campaign and another $450,000 to a committee that produced pro-Goodwin commercials, state campaign finance records show.

Goodwin did not respond to phone and text messages from The Associated Press on Wednesday but had a public relations firm issue a statement confirming that after his re-election defeat, Goodwin did work for Lindberg’s companies and other consulting clients.

Goodwin said he is not a target of federal prosecutors and sought to distance himself from the kind of money-for-favors Lindberg is accused of seeking from Causey.

“I do not recall being asked to take or direct any action to help Greg Lindberg or his companies during my time as Insurance Commissioner and do not recall him or his companies being raised for my review,” Goodwin said in a statement.

His consulting work involved attending conferences and receptions “to keep dozens of the firm’s clients, including Eli Global and Global Bankers Insurance, up-to-date with industry developments and insights,” Goodwin said. “My consulting services for Eli Global and Global Bankers Insurance have long since ended.”

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Follow Emery P. Dalesio on Twitter at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/emery%20dalesio .

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Associated Press writer Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.