Former state Representative David Lewis is the face of privilege and GOP hypocrisy. The party calling for law and order doesn’t think that should apply to well-connected white guys who rigged the system. Lewis somehow came out of federal court with nothing more than probation despite lying to a bank, fraudulently shifting $65,000 of campaign cash into his personal account and taking $500,000 from a man convicted of attempting to bribe state officials. And the damnedest thing about is that nobody is paying attention.
Lewis was the second most powerful man in the state house. He served as Chair of the House Rules Committee, determining which bills get a hearing and which don’t. He also helped draw the gerrymandered districts that have found to be unconstitutional. He’s famous for arguing that political gerrymanders are legal and when asked why he drew districts that gave North Carolina 10 Republican Congressional districts and only three Democratic districts in an evenly divided state, he said he couldn’t figure out how to draw eleven Republican ones. He also helped craft North Carolina’s voter suppression laws that have been found unconstitutional.
The man who has been figuring out how to rig the system for Republicans, thought he could rig it for himself. First, he took a $500,000 loan from John Gray, who has been convicted of attempting to bribe the insurance commissioner. Gray was sentenced to two and half years in jail. As of October 2019, Lewis had not repaid the loan.
His most brazen act, though, was stealing $65,000 from his campaign account and funneling it to himself for personal use. Lewis set up a phony company called “NC GOP, Inc.” and told the bank it was a Republican Party account. He then shifted money from his campaign account to NC GOP, Inc. His goal was not only to steal money, it was to mislead the State Board of Elections by making the deposits appear to be for the real NC GOP. He went so far as to donate the exact same amount to the NC Republican Party as he did to his phony account. His scheme was clearly well conceived and executed. He intended to lie to bankers and deceive the State Board of Elections.
And yet Lewis was only given probation for the brazen scheme. He cut a plea deal with federal prosecutors that left him with only probation. In a statement, Lewis said, “Today’s agreement with the government signifies my commitment to put an unfortunate chapter behind me.The plea agreement is the result of my failing to file my 2018 tax return on time and my including a false statement on a bank form.” How many people do you know who get probation for duping banks and the public of $65,000? The only people I know are cutting deals to put other people in jail. Maybe Speaker Tim Moore is shaking in his boots, but I doubt it. This looks a lot more like a case of privilege for the powerful.
To put this episode in perspective, former state Senator Fletcher Hartsell spent 18 months in federal prison for spending campaign cash on clothes, vacation and such and reporting it illegally. Former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps spent three years in prison for taking illegal campaign contributions that she spent on her campaign, not herself. Ruffin Poole, an aide to Governor Mike Easley, spent a year in prison for essentially a sweet-heart real estate deal. North Carolina is a state that has seen a lot of public officials go to jail for less than what David Lewis has done.
Something stinks in this case. Maybe Lewis will face a reckoning at the state level. After all, he defrauded the North Carolina State Board of Elections with his phony campaign reports. He wasn’t just spending money on miscellaneous personal goods. He set up an elaborate scheme to hide his crimes.
Finally, why isn’t this whole scheme getting more attention? Has the lawlessness and grift in the White House made us immune to blatant corruption? Is the media too distracted with the plethora of other political stories out there? And what does the party of law and order think about one of their own flaunting the laws he’s supposed to uphold? In another era, this story would have dominated state political news coverage for weeks.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >