- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 3, 2018

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A federal investigation seeks documents about business operations connected to a private investment firm founder who seemingly overnight became the largest individual donor in North Carolina politics.

The federal grand jury subpoena issued last month to the state Department of Insurance demands information since January 2014 about Greg E. Lindberg; Durham-based Eli Global, which he founded; and at least seven associated companies. The department regulates many of Lindberg’s companies.

Among the records sought by Oct. 16 include those involving “business dealings” such as financial reports, contracts, and investment and lending instruments pertaining to Lindberg or the companies.

The FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Charlotte requested the subpoena, which says “an official criminal investigation of a suspected felony is being conducted” but does not specify the subject.

Spokeswomen for the federal law enforcement agencies separately declined to comment Wednesday on the subpoena and the investigation. WRAL-TV first reported on their existence. Republican state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey is not the target, department spokesman Barry Smith said.

Lindberg and Eli Global offered no comment, either, when requested by The Associated Press through a public relations agency taking calls for them Tuesday and Wednesday.

The state Democratic and Republican parties - which have both benefited from Lindberg’s recent political donations - also have been contacted by investigators, party officials confirmed Wednesday. Lindberg has given more than $5 million since 2016 to North Carolina candidate and party committees and independent expenditure groups, including more than $3.4 million last year, according to campaign finance reports.

The state GOP’s receipt of nearly $1.5 million from Lindberg for the 18 months ending June 30 is five times what the Democrats received. He’s also given in the past to outside groups that have supported GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and then-Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, a Democrat who is now chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Lindberg, a registered unaffiliated voter, has said little about why he’s giving to political causes. A spokesman said months ago that Lindberg wanted to support “in a nonpartisan way candidates that are in tune with the issues affecting North Carolina businesses and its citizens.”

The investigation reinforces questions about what results Lindberg hopes for from his donations, said Bob Phillips, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause North Carolina.

“Everyone should be asking why is this big money coming to both sides,” Phillips said, adding that such donations leave the impression of “trying to buy access and influence.”

State GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said he’s never met with Lindberg or talked to him.

The state GOP “has no concerns about any donations received or made anytime recently,” Woodhouse said.

Lindberg gave a combined $360,000 in 2016 to an outside group that ran ads backing Goodwin or directly to Goodwin’s committee. The $250,000 donation Lindberg made to the state Democratic Party last spring went to a special fund to renovate the party’s Raleigh headquarters, spokesman Robert Howard wrote in an email.

Causey, who defeated Goodwin in the November 2016 election, said earlier this year that his campaign returned a $5,000 Lindberg donation last year “out of abundance of caution” because of his regulatory duties.

Lindberg gave $2.4 million last year to the Republican Council of State Committee, an organization backing GOP candidates for executive statewide office, and Truth and Prosperity, which promoted Forest during his winning 2016 re-election campaign. Forest is preparing for a 2020 run for governor.

Forest said Wednesday in a brief interview that he had no information on the subpoena and repeated that being identified in one doesn’t mean the person is guilty of a crime.

“So I think you let the process play out,” Forest said. “I wouldn’t want to comment on anything I don’t know anything about.”

Lindberg also has given money to candidates in state and federal races in five other states during the current two-year election cycle, according to FollowTheMoney.org, which tracks campaign contributions.

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