Here’s what happened and the key players involved in the NCGOP chairman bribery and corruption charges
The campaign spending reports of U.S. Rep. Mark Walker show a $50,000 payment to a Washington, D.C., law firm that specializes in white-collar defense and congressional investigations.
The payment came less than four months before last week’s indictment of campaign donor Greg Lindberg, a Durham businessman who donated more than $200,000 to Walker and groups supporting him. Walker has not been charged in the federal grand jury’s indictment accusing Lindberg and NC Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes of an attempted bribery scheme.
Walker has assisted the federal Department of Justice in its probe, his communications director, Jack Minor, told The News & Observer on Monday.
Minor didn’t answer questions about whether the legal payment had anything to do with the investigation.
“The $50,000 is a retainer for legal and compliance services, a highly common practice for congressional campaigns,” Minor said in a text message.
Minor also reiterated what he had said when the indictment was released last week: “Because (Walker) is not the target of the investigation and has done no wrongdoing, he has not spoken with the grand jury but he has assisted the Department of Justice in their investigation.”
Minor declined further comment.
Two nonpartisan campaign finance experts said a $50,000 expenditure for legal services in a U.S. House race is unusual. In Walker’s previous election campaign, he spent less than $4,000 on legal services, his campaign filings show.
“It’s definitely something that would catch my eye on a report,” said Andrew Mayersohn, a researcher for the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog. “Everybody spends money on lawyers and things like that, but $50,000 is pretty big for a House member.”
Adav Noti, senior director of the Campaign Legal Center, said that kind of spending reflects a legal situation that requires “serious representation.” It doesn’t have to be a criminal matter — a contract dispute or a lawsuit by a former staffer could trigger big legal expenses, he said.
Congress members typically don’t discuss such legal expenses, Noti said, and campaign finance laws do not require a more detailed explanation for the spending.
The indictment alleges that Lindberg, who owns the Eli Global, LLC, investment company and Global Bankers Insurance Group, sought friendly regulation from state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey by offering bribes disguised as six-figure donations run through the NC GOP.
Causey alerted federal authorities. Surreptitiously taped conversations followed.
The indictment also refers to “Public Official A” assisting Lindberg and two people who worked for him – John D. Gray and John V. Palermo – in their efforts with Causey. Gray and Palermo, a former Chatham County GOP chairman, have also been charged. They, Lindberg and Hayes have all pleaded not guilty.
According to the indictment, Palermo wrote in a Feb. 12, 2018, email: “Just between the 3 of us ... [Public Official A] has already made two calls on our behalf and is trying to help us move ball forward. I was also told the $150K will be going to [Public Official A].”
Politico tracked campaign records and found that Lindberg sent $150,000 on Feb. 17, 2018, to the Mark Walker Victory Committee. The N&O confirmed that payment by reviewing the campaign records. Election filings show the victory committee is registered as a joint fundraising political action committee affiliated with Walker’s campaign. Such committees can take unlimited contributions, but have to abide by contribution limits to candidates’ campaigns.
Minor, Walker’s spokesman, said last week the contribution went to the Republican National Committee and provided no benefit to Walker’s campaign.
In July 2018, the indictment said, Palermo told Lindberg he had lunch with “Public Official A.” They talked about the issues in the insurance department, and Palermo reported “Public Official A” saying Causey “needs to man-up and do what he agreed to.”
Minor said Walker, a Greensboro Republican first elected in 2014, made no such comment.
The public official subsequently contacted Causey and said Lindberg, Gray and Palermo “seemed anxious to find out” if Causey had made staffing changes, the indictment said.
Lindberg emerged as a mega donor to both political parties in recent years, though giving far more to Republicans. Lindberg gave $233,600 to Walker and groups supporting him over the past two years.