Committee supporting U.S. Rep. Mark Walker got $150,000 donation from indicted donor as he was being enlisted to lobby on donor’s behalf
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
CHARLOTTE (CFP) — Robin Hayes, a former congressman who chairs the North Carolina Republican Party, and the state’s top political donor have been indicted in what federal prosecutors allege was a “brazen” scheme to bribe Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey with $2 million disguised as campaign contributions.
The indictment, unsealed April 2, charges Hayes with wire fraud, bribery and three counts of lying to the FBI. Also charged with wire fraud and bribery in the case is Greg E. Lindberg, 48, a Durham businessman who federal prosecutors allege initiated the scheme to bribe Causey in order to get more favorable treatment from insurance regulators for one of his companies.
The indictment of Lindberg is likely to reverberate through state Republican politics. He has contributed generously to various GOP groups and political committees supporting Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest and U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, who appears to have been mentioned in the indictment but was not accused of any crime.
Also charged were John D. Gray, 68, from Chapel Hill, a consultant working for Lindberg, and John V. Palermo, Jr., 63, from Pittsboro, an employee at one of Lindberg’s companies and former GOP chair in Chatham County.
Causey, who notified federal law enforcement of the bribery attempt and cooperated with investigators, was not charged.
In a statement, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said the men had engaged in a “brazen bribery scheme in which Greg Lindberg and his co-conspirators allegedly offered hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in exchange for official action that would benefit Lindberg’s business interests.”
Prosecutors allege that Hayes agreed to use the state GOP to funnel Lindberg’s money to Causey’s campaign to keep the source from becoming public, and then lied to FBI agents when he was asked about the contributions and his contacts with Causey on Lindberg’s behalf.
Also mentioned in the indictment, but not accused of wrongdoing, is an unnamed “Public Official A,” who was allegedly enlisted to lobby Causey on Lindberg’s behalf after Lindberg donated $150,000 to a political committee supporting him.
Citing Federal Election Commission records, Politico identified “Public Official A” as Walker, from Greensboro, a member of the House Republican leadership.
FEC records show that Lundberg made a $150,000 contribution to the Mark Walker Victory Committee, which was dated Feb. 17, 2018. Lundberg was the first contributor to the committee, which was registered on Feb. 13, 2018. His contribution was 10 times the amount of any other donor and accounted for about one-fourth of all of the money taken in by the fund during 2018.
The indictment said that on Feb. 5, 2018, Gray contacted “Public Official A” to lobby Causey on behalf of Lindberg, who wanted the insurance commissioner to remove a deputy he felt was “maliciously” hurting his reputation and replace her with Palermo.
After Gray reported his conversation with Public Official A to Lindberg, he donated $150,000 to a political committee supporting that official, according to the indictment. Two days later, the official called Causey to “explain that Lindberg was doing good things for North Carolina business,” according to the indictment.
Responding to the Politico report, Walker’s office released a statement saying he was not a target of the investigation, has not been accused of any wrongdoing and that he had cooperated with federal prosecutors investigating the case.
The statement also noted the Lindberg has also donated money to Democratic officials and that the victory fund was controlled by the Republican National Committee.
Hayes, 73, who served in the U.S. House from 1999 to 2009 and has chaired the state GOP since 2016, had announced on the day before the indictment was unsealed that he would not seek re-election as state chair in June.
His attorney issued a statement saying Hayes “steadfastly denies the allegations made against him” and is looking forward to clearing his name.
In a statement, the state GOP’s legal counsel, Josh Howard, said the party has been “cooperating with the investigation for several months, including staff members providing statements and responding to various document requests” and “remains fully operational and focused on its mission at hand.”
Lindberg’s attorney, Anne Tompkins, told the McClatchey newspapers that his client was innocent of the charges and was also looking forward to his day in court.
The Raleigh News & Observer had previously reported that Lindberg had become the largest political donor in the state over the last two years, contributing more than $3 million to candidates from both parties since 2016. Most of those contributions were made to political committees and political parties instead of directly to candidates, whose donations are capped.
About half of that money went to groups supporting Forest, who is expected to run for governor in 2020, the newspaper reported.