Businessman Greg Lindberg arrived on the North Carolina political scene in 2017 with a big fat check book. Previously unknown in political circles, he started making six-figure contributions and landed squarely on the radar of campaigns across the state.
At the time, one political strategist called it alarming. Another said it was clear Lindberg had limited experience in politics.
What we know now, according to federal prosecutors, is that Lindberg was hardly the altruistic type. He wanted influence – and control. A federal indictment unsealed Tuesday accuses Lindberg, two associates, and the Republican State Party chairman of conspiring to try to bribe the state insurance commissioner.
On Wednesday, Robin Hayes stepped away from his post as the face of the GOP. And the state's leading lawmakers – Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore – faced questions about the news.
"I mean all this is just I think for Phil and I – it caught all of us off guard," said Moore. "I found out about it when it was in the media, so we're still finding out information like everyone else."
Moore and Berger made a joint appearance to celebrate the North Carolina food bank, before reporters peppered them with questions about the scandal. Have they met with Lindberg? What, if anything, had he offered to them? Would elected officials or the party return any of the millions of dollars Lindberg has poured into politics?
The sheer volume and pace of his gifts are unprecedented. A donation of $1 million in December of 2017, followed by another $1 million three days later. Donations of $500,000 to the Republican Party, $250,000 to the Democratic Party, seven figures to a political action committee supporting Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, who is running for governor.
Something else that stands out according to campaign finance reports is where money didn't go.
"My understanding is that the Senate caucus has not received any contributions from Mr. Lindberg," said Berger. "I have been in less than five meetings that he was present in. I have not been in any meetings with him just the two of us. I don't know that I can add anything more than that."
Both Berger and Moore were asked if Lindberg ever asked them for anything. Moore said he did not recall. Berger did not answer. It is odd that while making disproportionately large contributions to various entities in state politics, from local governments to members of Congress, that Lindberg didn't contribute to the Senate, a body which wields the most power. When asked again later if Lindberg ever made any sort of offer to him, Berger offered this: "At this point I responded to some questions, responded in general to questions this morning, and there is an ongoing federal investigation and I think it's probably best for me not to say anything else at this time."
There is no evidence to suggest Berger and Moore have done anything wrong. Despite contributions totaling more than $7 million in less than two years, Lindberg's ideology, motivations and agenda remain largely unknown.
The bribe that led to the indictments was offered to the current state insurance commissioner, Republican Mike Causey. Lindberg also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Causey's predecessor: Democrat Wayne Goodwin. And, after Causey defeated Goodwin in 2017, Lindberg gave Goodwin a consulting job. Today Goodwin is the head of the Democratic Party. He declined comment for this story.
Also unclear are just how this scandal will factor into two special elections, and a 2020 primary that is less than a year away. In a perpetually exhaustive news cycle this could amount to the latest blip, or an incident that runs deep.
"You're looking at now a history of scandals in the state Republican Party – it raises questions for donors, it raises questions for candidates, it raises questions for voters," said Meredith College political science professor David McLennan. "I think it's a very difficult circumstance.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the indictment was unsealed Monday and Robin Hayes stepped down on Tuesday. The indictment was in fact released Tuesday with Hayes stepping down on Wednesday.