Commentary

Rep. Lewis’ loan deal emblematic of a larger problem in NC politics

Rep. David Lewis

There are a lot of troubling aspects to the recently disclosed loan deal between North Carolina House Rules Committee chair, Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) and John Gray — one of four individuals indicted earlier this year in an alleged bribery scheme involving businessman Greg Lindberg and former Republican congressman and state party chairman Robin Hayes.

As you’ve probably heard by now, Travis Fain of WRAL reported earlier this week that Gray provided a personal loan to Lewis of $500,000 in June of 2018 that was supposed to be for four months. This is from Fain’s report:

Deeds of trust filed in the deal show that Lewis and his wife, along with their farm and property company, put up land in four North Carolina counties as collateral. The loan has not been repaid, and Gray has not foreclosed on the properties as the deeds indicate he could.

Hurricane Florence hit two months after the loan closed, causing “catastrophic loss” at Lewis’ farm, the lawmaker said. Gray, who Lewis said he’s known for about 10 years, agreed to extend the loan.

While Lewis disclosed the loan arrangement between the two men, and its existence may not have broken any laws, it certainly doesn’t look or smell good. Gray was a consultant to Greg Lindberg — a wealthy insurance business owner whose company was registered to lobby the General Assembly at the time of the loan. What’s more, as WRAL also reported, Lindberg and his team had multiple meetings with GOP leaders in 2017 in which there were discussions of large potential contributions to Republican campaign efforts.

Simply put: It strains credulity to imagine that a powerful GOP lawmaker like Lewis was wholly unaware of these lobbying efforts or discussions of campaign contributions. After all, he told Fain that he’s known Gray for “about 10 years.” What’s more, Gray had also donated more than $7,000 to Lewis’ campaigns.

Perhaps more importantly, it also strains credulity to imagine that Lewis would have been able obtain such a large personal loan if he was a run-of-the-mill Harnett County farmer and not an important elected official.

In other words, even if the arrangement between the two men was completely legal, it stinks that a powerful politician can gain access to a half-million dollar loan from a deep-pocketed individual with lots of business before the public body in which that politician serves.

And this fact serves to illustrate a larger point.

For decades now, men and women of both political parties have come to the General Assembly with the obvious objective of “cashing in” on their public service. For some, this means finding work as a well-paid lobbyist after leaving the legislature. For others, it involves securing full-time employment with the state or a regulated industry. And for others, it just means making connections with wealthy and powerful interests who can provide other perks and benefits.

And while such arrangements are devilishly difficult to prevent or even regulate, it doesn’t make them right. Unfortunately, in the dark era of Trump, they seem, increasingly, to amount to business as usual.

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