RALEIGH — Greg Lindberg, the Republican mega-donor who was charged with federal crimes Tuesday along with North Carolina GOP Chairman Robin Hayes, is also a major Democratic donor.
But for months, Lindberg’s donations to the NC Democratic Party have drawn backlash behind the scenes from some top activists. The official party line is that the money wasn’t tainted, unlike Lindberg’s Republican contributions. But some Democrats who wanted to capitalize on the GOP scandal are not entirely comfortable with their own party taking — or keeping — Lindberg’s money.
“Did we have any qualms, as a party, receiving this?” Dave Nelson, who is president of the Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus, said in an interview Wednesday. “I certainly did, and I want to discuss it.”
Over the last six months, meeting minutes from the Democratic Party’s Executive Council show council members tried to raise the issue of Lindberg’s Democratic donations multiple times. But each time their questions were shut down by party Chairman Wayne Goodwin or by former Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds, with little or no debate.
Lindberg gave the Democratic Party $750,000 in 2018, while Goodwin was party chairman. He also gave several thousand dollars to Goodwin’s unsuccessful 2016 campaign for re-election as state insurance commissioner, and $500,000 to a PAC that ran pro-Goodwin ads in 2016. Lindberg and one of his businesses were the only donors to that PAC, state records show. Goodwin also worked as a consultant for two of Lindberg’s companies after he left office, although he said that work stopped last year.
Now a grand jury has accused Lindberg of trying to bribe Goodwin’s successor as N.C. insurance commissioner, Mike Causey, who is a Republican. Neither Causey nor Goodwin has been charged with anything.
Lindberg’s donations to Republicans were significantly more than to Democrats. He gave $1.5 million to the N.C. GOP and $2.4 million to two groups supporting Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, among other donations.
Democratic Party officials maintain that nothing illegal happened with Lindberg’s donations.
“The North Carolina Democratic Party accepted a legal contribution, from a legal donor, and legally reported all contributions with the State Board of Elections,” Democratic Party spokesman Robert Howard said late last week.
‘We should call that out’
Another Democratic Party executive council member, Virginia Penley, said she attended a January party meeting where the issue of Lindberg’s donations came up — before being quickly dismissed by the party’s executive director at the time, Reynolds.
Reynolds told executive council members the Democratic Party had not engaged in any campaign finance violations, Penley said in an email, and “she also alluded to the notion that the NCGOP would not give back its funds so why should the NCDP.”
Nelson said he’s frustrated the party won’t disavow Lindberg’s money because the alleged criminal scheme “was multi-million dollars going to the GOP, and I thought we should call that out.”
Former Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller has also called for the party to donate the money. He wrote formal resolutions calling for that late last year that his hometown Chatham County Democratic Party passed. Voller said he’s disappointed the state party has not adopted the idea.
“I felt that this attitude was out of step with our party’s platform and that we should divest our party of said funds and insist that the Republicans do the same,” he said.
In a statement to the News & Observer, Goodwin said he has never taken a political contribution in return for any favors.
“I am not the subject of an investigation and have cooperated with investigators in their inquiry,” Goodwin said. “I do not recall being asked to take or direct any action to help Greg Lindberg or his companies during my time as Insurance Commissioner and do not recall him or his companies being raised for my review.”
Causey, however, said Wednesday that “there were loopholes being exploited” by Lindberg while Goodwin was leading the Department of Insurance.
A standard guideline in the industry is for no more than 10 percent of an insurance company’s assets to be invested in affiliated companies. N.C. insurance regulators usually enforce similar limits.
But under Goodwin, the insurance department loosened the rules for one of Lindberg’s companies, allowing up to 40 percent to be invested in affiliated companies, Causey said.
Goodwin said any policy decisions made while he was commissioner were based on recommendations from staff experts, adding: “Any suggestion that I have ever taken any action in return for contributions is categorically false.”
Goodwin also said that after he lost in 2016 and started consulting, he did work for two Lindberg-owned businesses. But they were only some of the clients that hired him, Goodwin said, and his work for them “was no different than with my other clients” and ended after a little more than a year between 2017 and 2018.
The news of a federal investigation into Lindberg broke in early October. The state Democratic Party’s Executive Council scheduled a conference call on Oct. 11, regarding “no other topic except a time sensitive legal matter.” Most of that meeting occurred in a closed session, with no written minutes, so it’s unclear if Lindberg came up. But the minutes show that after the meeting came back into open session and that resolution passed, executive council member Grace Galloway asked ‘Who is Greg Lindberg?’ ”
She never got an answer.
“(Goodwin) ruled that her question was out of order,” the minutes state. “Chair Goodwin adjourned the conference call.”
Howard said Goodwin was bound by Democratic Party rules to make that decision, since the rules prohibit questions at meetings about topics that aren’t on the agenda.
The Democratic Party didn’t hold another council meeting until earlier this year, on Jan. 25. At that meeting, Voller pressed the Lindberg issue further, questioning $250,000 one of Lindberg’s businesses had donated to a fund the party was using to make repairs to its headquarters in downtown Raleigh.
Reynolds defended the money as legitimate, the minutes show, although they don’t record exactly what she said.
Galloway, the council member who had been thwarted in her attempts to find out more about Lindberg, said Wednesday that “Kimberly Reynolds answered that it was given and taken in good faith.”
Galloway said she thinks the party should disavow the money, but that Reynolds’ defense “was very quick. Very quick. And extremely emphatic.”
One day later, Democratic Party meeting minutes show, Goodwin was unanimously re-elected to another term as party chairman, ending in 2021.