The GOP bribery case

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GUEST EDITORIAL

It’s dispiriting to learn about state Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes who, along with insurance and investment firm founder Greg Lindberg and others, was charged by the FBI with bribery, conspiracy and other crimes. We expect more from those we place in positions of leadership and it’s disappointing, to say the least, when we find their feet are made of clay.

It’s a failure that resounds more fully for the state Republican Party in the wake of the recent ballot-harvesting charges against Republican operatives that have led to tossing out election results and calling for a new election in the state’s 9th Congressional District.

And it’s one more incident on the national stage that will make people lift their eyebrows when they think about North Carolina.

Federal prosecutors allege that between April 2017 and August, Lindberg tried to infleunce N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, a Republican, with donations through the state GOP in exchange for actions that would be beneficial to Lindberg’s businesses. He enlisted Hayes, the head of the state GOP and a one-time representative for N.C.’s 8th Congressional District, to direct $250,000 to Causey’s re-election campaign. Hayes initially protested, but eventually went along.

“Whatever you all want to do, we’ll do,” Hayes said, according to the indictment. “Alright, I’ll get ’er done.”

In all, Lindberg and his associates promised Causey $2 million in donations.

Hayes faces the worst charges of the four who were indicted. He stands accused of bribery and conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, along with three counts of making false statements to the FBI.

Hayes has announced that he won’t run for re-election as party chairman, citing health problems.

“These men crossed the line from fundraising to felonies when they devised a plan to use their connections to a political party to attempt to influence the operations and policies of the North Carolina Department of Insurance,” John A. Strong, the special agent in charge of the FBI office in Charlotte, told The New York Times.

Hayes and Lindberg deny any wrongdoing, and they’re innocent until found guilty.

But the FBI’s case is based on evidence gathered in real time after Causey voluntarily reported the scheme. It looks solid.

“Everything I did was in cooperation and with direction of the federal investigators,” Causey said. In an interview with The News & Observer of Raleigh, Causey said he worked with FBI agents because “I looked at it as doing my job.”

Causey said he was sorry to hear about the indictments, “but everybody makes their own decisions.”

He’s right about that.

“It’s never a dull moment with the Republicans here,” Morgan Jackson, a Democratic strategist, told The New York Times. “Every time we think it can’t get worse, they figure out a way to dig deeper.”

Of course, greed and corruption have no party loyalty. They find equal opportunity offenders in both flavors, Republican and Democrat. Former House Speaker Jim Black of Mecklenburg County, who served several years in prison on corruption charges in the mid-2000s, comes to mind, as well as former Gov. Mike Easley, who was loose with campaign funds, but dodged prison with a plea bargain.

The vast majority of politicians and party officials manage to avoid bribery, but big money in politics has a corrupting influence. This is another in a long string of incidents that make the case for campaign finance reform.

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