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North Carolina GOP Chair Robin Hayes, top donor accused of trying to bribe insurance commissioner

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.

North Carolina Republican Chair Robin Hayes

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.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey

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.

U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-North Carolina

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.

Walker, 49, was elected in 2014 to represent the state’s 6th District, in and around Greensboro. He is part of the GOP House leadership as vice-chair of the House Republican Conference.

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.

Lindberg is chairman of Eli Global, an investment company, and Global Bankers Insurance Group, which is regulated by Causey’s office.

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Chaos in Carolina: Judges strike down U.S. House map now used in Tar Heel State

Ruling could leave November 6 election in confusion unless U.S. Supreme Court intervenes

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RALEIGH (CFP) — A panel of three federal judges has once again struck down North Carolina’s U.S. House map as being unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans, ordering that the lines be redrawn just 70 days before the November election and three months after primaries were held using the current lines.

The ruling could sow significant confusion into congressional races unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in to stay the ruling, something it did with a previous ruling earlier this year. It also has implications for partisan control of the House if a redraw of the map creates more districts where Democrats can compete.

State House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, both Republicans, announced they will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, saying in a statement that implementing the ruling “would irreparably disrupt campaigns from both major parties across the state that have been organizing, raising money and trying to win over voters.”

But Bob Phillips, the executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, one of the plaintiffs who challenged the map, hailed the court’s decision.

“We’re pleased that a North Carolina federal court has once again stated what we have long believed, that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional,” he said in a statement. “This is a historic win for voters, and a significant step towards finally ending gerrymandering.”
In the majority opinion for the three-judge panel, Judge James Wynn of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that by favoring Republicans, the redistricting plan passed by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature amounted to “invidious partisanship” that “runs contrary to the Constitution’s vesting of the power to elect Representatives in ‘the People.'”

Although North Carolina is fairly evenly divided in statewide and presidential elections, Republicans hold a 10-to-3 advantage in the House delegation. Two of those Democrats are African Americans who represent majority-minority districts drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

In January, the same three-judge panel ruled against the state’s map, the first time a federal court had ever stuck down a congressional map for being gerrymandered to favor one party.

But in June, the Supreme Court vacated the order and returned the case to the judges in Greensboro to reconsider their ruling in light of its own ruling in a different case.

In their August 27 decision, the judges said their reconsideration of the case did not change their view that the map was unconstitutional.

Since the first ruling was vacated by the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy has retired and his replacement hasn’t been confirmed, leaving the court with a 4-to-4 split between conservative and liberal factions. If North Carolina legislators can’t persuade five justices to stay the ruling, the lower court decision will stand.

The three-judge panel declined to let November’s election go forward with the current map pending appeal, despite the fact that primaries had already been held in those districts.

Wynn suggested that the general election could proceed without primaries or that the state could hold new primaries on November 6 and then conduct the general election later.

The judges also indicated they would bring in a special master to draw a new map rather than returning it to legislators to redraw.

Attorneys in the case were given until August 31 to submit proposals for a remedial plan to comply with the ruling.

Wynn, who previously served on the North Carolina Supreme Court, was appointed to the appeals court by President Barack Obama and was joined in his majority opinion by U.S. District Court Judge William Britt, a senior-status judge appointed by President Jimmy Carter.

The third judge on the panel, U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen Jr., was appointed by President George W. Bush; he dissented from part of the majority’s reasoning in ruling, although he concurred with the remedy of redrawing congressional lines.

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, sent a tweet accusing Wynn of being an “activist” judge who was “waging a personal, partisan war on North Carolina Republicans.”

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