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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.
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Quinnipiac poll finds Democrat Beto O’Rourke within striking distance of Republican incumbent Ted Cruz
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
AUSTIN (CFP) — The last time a Democrat was within striking distance in a U.S. Senate contest in Texas, Ronald Reagan was president, people rented movies from a store and tweeting was only for the birds.
Since the last Democratic victory in 1988, the party’s nominees have lost nine Senate races in a row, all by double digits. The average size of their loss? 19 points.
But a new poll shows Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke is closing in on Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, cutting Cruz’s lead in half since May and raising the specter of seeing something this fall that hasn’t been seen deep in the heart of Texas for 30 years — a truly competitive Senate race.
A close race in Texas could also have national implications, as Republicans try to hang on to their slim one-vote majority in the Senate.
A Quinnipiac University poll released August 1 put Cruz at 49 percent and O’Rourke at 43 percent among registered voters in the Senate contest. With a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percent, that means that, statistically, Cruz’s lead is small enough to be the result of sampling error, rather than an actual lead.
But perhaps the most alarming bit of data in the poll for the Cruz campaign is that his 6-point lead now is down from an 11-point lead three months ago, and Cruz is now below 50 percent, a danger sign for an incumbent.
“O’Rourke has done a good job making the race competitive,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac Poll in a statement. “He is clearly in contention. A Democratic victory in the Lone Star State would be a serious blow to GOP hopes of keeping their U.S. Senate majority.”
The poll of 1,118 registered voters found Cruz leading among men and white voters, while O’Rouke was leading among women and African-American voters. O’Rourke has a 12-point lead among Latino voters, and the two men are running even among voters who describe themselves as independent.
The poll found Texans generally have a good opinion of Cruz — 50 percent approve of his job performance and view him favorably, while 42 percent disapprove and view him unfavorably. However, he is polling far behind the Republican running in the other marquis statewide race, Governor Greg Abbott, who had a 13-point lead over his Democratic challenger, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez.
By contrast, 43 percent of voters surveyed said the didn’t know enough about O’Rourke to offer an opinion of him, which means he remains something of an unknown quantity. And that could give the Cruz campaign an opening to try to define him negatively with voters over the rest of the campaign.
The poll also found that President Donald Trump’s approval rating in Texas was mixed, with 46 percent approving of his performance and 49 percent disapproving, which was within the margin of error.
The Quinnipiac poll surveyed registered voters rather than likely voters, making the results somewhat less indicative of what might happen on election day. However, two other polls taken in July that surveyed likely voters — by the Texas Lyceum and Gravis Marketing — also found Cruz’s lead in single digits.
Federal Election Commission reports also show that O’Rourke has been competitive with Cruz in fundraising. As of the end of June, he had raised $23.6 million to $23.4 million for Cruz and had $14 million in cash on hand, compared to $9.3 million for the incumbent.
The last time Cruz ran, in 2012, he outraised and outspent his Democratic opponent by a 2-to-1 margin, on his way to a 16-point victory.
O’Rouke, 45, has represented metro El Paso in the House since 2013, after serving on the El Paso City Council. Although he is Irish and his given first name is Robert, he was nicknamed “Beto” — a Spanish nickname for Robert — from childhood.
Cruz, 47, was elected to the Senate in 2012 on his first try for political office. In 2016, he made an unsuccessful run for the Republican presidential nomination, carrying 12 primaries and caucuses and finishing second in the delegate count behind Trump.
The Texas race is one of six Southern states with open seats in 2018; the others are Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi, where both seats are on the ballot.
Four of those races are shaping up to be competitive — Florida and West Virginia, which are currently held by Democrats, and Texas and Tennessee, held by Republicans.