Under the Dome

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest raises $2.4 million from mega donor

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest presides in the Senate chamber at the Legislative Building in Raleigh in 2016.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest presides in the Senate chamber at the Legislative Building in Raleigh in 2016. cseward@newsobserver.com

Though he hasn’t officially declared his candidacy in the 2020 race for governor, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest is getting a head start on fundraising, with help from a multi-million-dollar donor.

According to campaign finance reports, Forest’s election committee raised $631,515 between the end of the 2016 elections and last December, and has $336,239 left over after spending. In a press release, the Republican lieutenant governor’s campaign said Forest also raised money for Truth and Prosperity, a North Carolina super PAC, along with the Republican Council of State Committee, of which Forest is the chairman.

According to their campaign finance reports, Truth and Prosperity raised $1 million in the second half of 2017 and the Republican Council of State Committee raised $1.4 million – all in the form of contributions from Durham resident Greg Lindberg.

Lindberg is the owner of private investment firm Eli Global. Lindberg also donated to Democrat Wayne Goodwin before Goodwin lost his re-election bid for North Carolina insurance commissioner in 2016.

Term limits will keep Forest from running for re-election in 2020. He said in 2016 he wanted to be governor, and U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows of western North Carolina has endorsed him for that office, even though Forest hasn’t said if he’ll run in 2020.

Forest, a socially conservative Republican, was among the strongest supporters of North Carolina’s House Bill 2 dealing with transgender bathroom access.

Forest is one of six Republican members of the Council of State, made up of officials elected to statewide office. No details were available about the purpose of the Republican Council of State Committee, but a 2015 law allows groups of Republicans or Democrats in either the legislature or statewide elected positions to create fundraising committees that act like political parties, accepting and distributing unlimited donations for campaigns.

In 2015, when Forest was running for re-election as lieutenant governor, Truth and Prosperity executive director Alfredo Rodriguez told WRAL that the super PAC’s primary purpose was to re-elect Forest.

Questions about the PAC

Bob Hall, former executive director of watchdog group Democracy NC, asked the state elections board to investigate Forest’s fundraising efforts with Truth and Prosperity in a letter sent to the agency Friday afternoon, calling it an “illegal solicitation and illegal contribution.”

“It is bad enough that a candidate may appear at a fundraising event for a Super PAC without directly soliciting a contribution, but directly raising funds for the Super PAC is a level of intimate coordination that risks unacceptable political pressure and corruption,” Hall said in his letter.

In a press release, the North Carolina Democratic Party also alleged that Forest is “potentially breaking election law by coordinating with a Republican super PAC.”

But state law has been read to permit candidates to coordinate with super PACs on raising money, according to Josh Lawson, general counsel for the state elections board.

The law allows for unlimited fundraising by super PACs, as long as candidates don’t direct the PACs’ decisions on how they spend money.

In an email, Forest spokesman Hal Weatherman cited state law and directed further inquiries to Truth and Prosperity. Rodriguez could not be reached for comment Friday, and Weatherman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations made by the Democratic Party.

Danielle Chemtob: @daniellechemtob