This has been another remarkable week in North Carolina. Once again, a dark cloud of corruption has descended upon and enveloped the state’s politics as federal prosecutors unsealed an extraordinary grand jury indictment of one of the state’s best known politicians and a trio of well-heeled businessmen.
Among other things, the indictment accuses Robin Hayes – a scion of the Cannon textile dynasty, as well as a former congressman, state representative, Republican gubernatorial nominee and, until this week, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party* – of participating in a brazen scheme to bribe the state’s Republican Insurance Commissioner with illegal campaign contributions. Also indicted were the state’s largest individual political donor – Durham businessman Greg Lindberg – and two of his employees, John Palermo and John Gray.
What’s more, there could be more indictments on the way. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, who cooperated with federal officials and apparently wore a wire that captured some of the most incriminating statements described in the indictment, told the Charlotte Observer yesterday that “There could be more indictments to come. We don’t know what may happen. And with a case this complex and complicated, it may take months and months and months or years to get everything sorted out.”
Though it is, of course, very early in what promises to be a lengthy judicial process, it’s not too early to identify a handful of initial takeaways from this week’s news.
#1 – Hayes’ fall is another damaging body blow to the state Republican Party. Coming, as it does, just weeks after the invalidation of the November election in the state’s 9th Congressional District as a result of alleged illegal electioneering by an operative in the employ of Republican nominee, Rev. Mark Harris, the new scandal couldn’t come at a much worse time for the state GOP. The party was already reeling from having lost its legislative supermajorities last November and currently faces the prospect that federal and state courts could soon declare the state’s gerrymandered congressional and legislative maps unconstitutional. Add to this the recent national derision poured on Senator Thom Tillis in the aftermath of his cringe-inducing flip-flop/cave-in on President Trump’s Mexican border emergency declaration and Trump’s own lagging poll numbers, and the picture gets that much bleaker.
#2 – Some important political figures have a lot of explaining to do. In addition to Congressman Mark Walker (the person identified by Politico as “Public Official A” in Tuesday’s indictment), this list must also include:
- Lt. Governor Dan Forest – by far the largest recipient of campaign cash from the corrupt Lindberg. After reading the indictment, it seems hard to believe Lindberg showered more than $1 million on Forest for altruistic purposes.
- Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse – What did he know and when did he know it?
- Former Insurance Commissioner and Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin, who also appears to have had a worrisomely cozy relationship with Lindberg.
#3 – The scandal once more makes the case for campaign finance reform and publicly financed elections. As an editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer points out today, the Hayes scandal demonstrates the desperate need for change to a system that allows big donors to launder their contributions through political parties. Placing limits on contributions to parties is an obvious first step.
But the real fix in this matter involves a return to voter-owned elections. There was a time, not that long ago, when North Carolina law provided for the public financing of several council of state races including the Commissioner of Insurance. Tragically, that law – which made eminent sense for an office that regulates a big money industry and that otherwise draws little interest from average voters – was later repealed by Republicans. If ever there was a concrete example of why the move away from publicly-financed elections was a grave mistake, this is it.
#4 – Hayes’ troubles are emblematic of a broader failing on the religious right. There was a time in the United States in which the majority of politically-active evangelical Christians were closely aligned with what we would today consider “progressive” causes – combating corporate monopolies and big money corruption, speaking out for workers, consumers and the less fortunate, and promoting environmental stewardship.
In recent decades, of course, this has changed as, increasingly, leaders of the religious right have joined in an unholy alliance with corrupt plutocrats like the Koch Brothers, the Amway crowd, Sheldon Adelson and, of course, Donald Trump. Rather than championing principles like love, inclusion and justice, a growing number of politically active Christian conservatives have adopted a cynical, real politik, “whatever it takes” attitude toward government – often in service of a narrow and divisive social agenda that’s chiefly concerned with two causes never endorsed by Prince of Peace: limiting reproductive freedom and blocking LGBT equality.
Hayes, who launched his political career as a religious conservative and social issues warrior and Harris (not to mention Congressman/Reverend Walker) are but the latest embodiments of this corrupt and tragic transition.
*…While Hayes has has apparently relinquished many of his duties as GOP party chair, he has not resigned.