One of North Carolina’s top elected officials stands to be the biggest beneficiary of funds from a GOP donor recently indicted on conspiracy and bribery charges.
The official is Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a socially conservative Republican who plans to run for governor next year against incumbent Democrat Roy Cooper. The donor is Greg Lindberg, who controls a number of companies in the insurance, health care and service industries.
Lindberg, a mega donor who burst onto North Carolina’s political scene in 2016, is one of four people accused by a federal grand jury of trying to bribe NC Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey. Lindberg has donated more than $7 million to political committees between 2016 and 2018 — with the largest donations going to groups formed at least in part to help Forest, McClatchy reported April 3.
Since the indictments were handed up, Forest’s campaign this week tried to distance him from Lindberg. However, a Facebook photo and birthday party invitation from 2017 offer a glimpse of Lindberg’s involvement in Forest’s campaign.
On Tuesday, Forest referred to Lindberg as a “friend” and campaign spokesman Hal Weatherman acknowledged a couple ways the men are connected.
Lindberg gave $1.4 million to the North Carolina Republican Council of State Committee, which Forest chairs. For that committee, Forest appeared in a tongue-in-cheek video that instructs voters how to commit voter fraud.
Lindberg also gave $1 million to the NC-registered super PAC “Truth and Prosperity,” for which Forest has raised money.
But Lindberg hasn’t contributed to Forest’s official campaign account, the Committee to Elect Dan Forest, Weatherman said.
However, a party invitation sent by Forest’s committee in 2017 gives the impression that Lindberg donated the legal maximum to Forest’s campaign.
The Committee to Elect Dan Forest invited people to celebrate Forest’s 50th birthday in October 2017, according to a digital invitation obtained by McClatchy. The invitation says a donor can be listed as a “co-chair” if he or she gives $5,200. Lindberg is listed as a co-chair.
Weatherman, contacted by email Thursday, says Lindberg wasn’t required to donate to be listed as a co-chair of the party.
“Mr. Lindberg did not contribute, therefore a disclosure was not necessary,” Weatherman said in an email, referring to the Committee to Elect Dan Forest. “We routinely allow people to be listed as a host or sponsor of an event, even when they have made no contribution.”
Political candidates can face legal consequences if they don’t disclose campaign donations or if they file a false report. In March, former Democratic Rep. Rodney Moore was indicted on nine felony counts involving filing false campaign reports after he allegedly failed to report more than $141,000 in campaign contributions and expenditures, as the Charlotte Observer reported.
Robert Howard, spokesman for the North Carolina Democratic Party, accused Forest of lying.
“The Forest campaign’s misleading statements are particularly troubling following the indictment of the Chair of the Republican Party for a scheme to benefit this same donor,” he said in a statement.
On Aug. 28, 2017, the Facebook page for Forest’s campaign posted a photo of Forest speaking before a crowd of people in front of a building that appears to be Lindberg’s house.
“Thanks to Greg Lindberg for his hospitality and generosity. An amazing event with an overflow crowd to benefit Lt. Governor Dan Forest,” the Forest account posted on Aug. 28, 2017.
A McClatchy review of campaign finance reports — for the Truth and Prosperity PAC and the Committee to Elect Dan Forest — found no mention of an in-kind donation associated with Lindberg’s property.
Weatherman said Forest isn’t required by law to disclose his use of Lindberg’s property.
“Use of a personal residence for a fundraiser does not require an in-kind contribution disclosure, thus one was not reported,” Weatherman said in an email.
On the same day Forest posted the Facebook photo, Lindberg gave the Council of State committee $400,000.
Tuesday evening, Weatherman didn’t immediately answer follow-up questions about the fundraiser. After the indictments were unsealed, Forest released a statement saying the charges against Lindberg and NC GOP chairman Robin Hayes are “very troubling.”
Lindberg owns Durham-based Eli Global, LLC, an investment company, as well as Global Bankers Insurance Group, a managing company for several insurance and reinsurance companies.
He’s one of four people — including Hayes, John D. Gray and John V. Palermo — accused of trying to bribe the insurance commissioner with $2 million in campaign contributions to get him to take actions favorable to one of Lindberg’s companies.
They’re charged with conspiracy to commit a form of wire fraud, as well as bribery concerning programs that receive federal funds and aiding and abetting. Lindberg has denied the charges.
Lindberg’s employees have given about $61,000 to the Forest’s committee, according to a review of financial disclosures by McClatchy and Bob Hall, a voting rights advocate. That includes $1,150 from Gray, one of Lindberg’s consultants.
Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause, a nonprofit government watchdog group, said Forest and his associated groups should return the money or give it to the N.C. elections board.
“The sizable contributions he’s made in a relatively short period of time, and now with these charges suggesting pay-to-play … it would be difficult for the average citizen not to think that,” Phillips said.
When it comes to returning money, Weatherman said Forest is legally prohibited from telling the super PAC what to do. As for the Council of State committee, Weatherman said the committee’s leaders haven’t met to decide the fate of that money.
As for money Forest received from Lindberg employees, Weatherman says Forest plans to keep it..