On Tuesday, federal prosecutors indicted North Carolina Republican Party Chair Robin Hayes as well as GOP donor Greg Lindberg and two of his associates for their part in an alleged bribery scheme—and the story could have repercussions for Republican Rep. Mark Walker as well. Walker was not named in the indictment, but Politico identified him as “Public Official A,” whom Lindberg’s associates said had been “trying to help us move the ball forward.” Hayes, Walker, and Lindberg have all denied any wrongdoing.
The day began when prosecutors accused Hayes, Lindberg, John Palermo, and John Gray with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bribery. Prosecutors allege that Lindberg made large donations to the state party that Hayes then used to forward $250,000 to the re-election campaign of GOP state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey last year. They also say Lindberg promised Causey he’d set up a committee to make “independent” expenditures on the commissioner’s behalf, which he then seeded with $1.5 million.
According to the indictment, these activities were all meant as a bribe for Causey, “in exchange for official action that would benefit Lindberg’s business interests.” Chief among Lindberg’s desires was the removal a senior deputy insurance commissioner “who was responsible for overseeing regulation and the periodic examination” of one of Lindberg’s companies. Lindberg and Gray asked that Causey replace the deputy commissioner with Palermo, but it doesn’t appear any firing or hiring actually took place. (Causey cooperated with federal authorities in the investigation and was not charged.)
The story snowballed from there. Later on Tuesday, Politico reported that, relying on public FEC records, they’d matched the person identified as “Public Official A” in the indictment to Walker, a congressman from the Greensboro area and the House Republican caucus’ vice chair.
A February 2018 email to Lindberg from Palermo informed him, “Just between the 3 of us … [Public Official A] has already made two calls on our behalf and is trying to help us move the ball forward” in their efforts to connect with Causey. The email continued, “I was also told that the $150,000 will be going to [Public Official A].” That same day, a Walker political committee set up just four days earlier received $150,000 from Lindberg, its very first donation.
Walker represents North Carolina’s 6th District, a seat that backed Trump 56-41, and he won re-election 57-43 last year in a contest that didn’t attract much attention. Last month, Walker did not rule out a primary bid against Sen. Thom Tillis, though he seems far more interested in running for the Senate in 2022 when GOP incumbent Richard Burr says he’ll retire. However, though he hasn’t so far been charged with any crimes, he may now have more immediate concerns.
Tuesday’s news was far worse for Hayes, who represented a House seat in the Charlotte area from 1999 until his 2008 defeat at the hands of Democrat Larry Kissell. Hayes served as party chair from 2011 until 2013, then returned to that role in 2016. In a fitting irony, Hayes was one of the many Republicans who ardently defended Mark Harris even as a torrent of damning evidence surfaced about the election fraud committed on his behalf in last year’s race for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. Hayes even alleged that the former chair of the state Board of Elections was conspiring with Democrats to steal the seat.
Even after the Board ordered a new election in February hours after Harris himself called for one, Hayes put out a statement addressed to 2018 Democratic nominee “Dan McCready and his Democrat allies,” that declared, “You did not get more legal votes and there are no free lunches in politics.” Hayes went on, “You will be held responsible for the extreme positions your Party has taken and your role to erase more than 283,000 legal votes by citizens of the Ninth Congressional District.”
On Monday, one day before he was indicted, Hayes announced that he would not seek another term as party chair due to health reasons. As sociologist Dave Strong noted, “[T]here is free lunch in prison!”
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