Money Can’t Buy Everything. But Some Rich People Sure Do Give It A Try.

Apr 8, 2019

When I fantasize about being rich, my imagination is pretty modest. I think about getting a nice stereo, or maybe a pontoon boat.

I have to admit, I’ve never once thought about buying myself an insurance commissioner.

But according to federal prosecutors, that’s just what a big political donor tried to do, with the help of North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes.

You’ve probably seen the news by now. The federal indictments say that Greg Lindberg, a healthcare entrepreneur who owns a bunch of insurance companies, tried to funnel bribe money to Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey. Lindberg wanted Causey to fire one of his deputies because the deputy was investigating one of Lindberg’s companies. Hayes, according to the feds, acted as a go-between.

But instead of taking the money, Causey went to the FBI. And that led to the indictments of Lindberg, two of his business associates, and Hayes, who was not just state GOP chairman but a former congressman. In what I’m sure was pure coincidence, Hayes announced the day before the indictment came out that he wouldn’t run for party chair again for health reasons. I suspect the prospect of going to federal prison might make a man a little queasy.

There might be a lot more coming on this story – Lindberg has donated to a lot of Democrats, too. But the larger point is this: Of course a powerful rich guy might think he could buy the type of world he wants. All he has to do is look around.

Here in North Carolina, we’re having to re-do a congressional election because somebody paid for a scheme to rig the absentee ballot system in the race between Mark Harris and Dan McCready. Several people have been arrested in that case, including the now-infamous McCrae Dowless.

And nationally, there’s this huge federal case where wealthy parents paid big – sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars – to wedge their kids into elite universities that they wouldn’t have gotten into otherwise.

When I hear these stories, I keep coming back to the TV show “The Good Place.” It’s about four people who think they’re in heaven, realize (spoiler alert) that they’re in hell, and try to get back to the place where they think they belong. It’s a very funny show that happens to be about big moral questions, and the one they keep coming back to is this: What do we owe each other?

At the very least, it seems to me, we owe each other fairness – that you get the same shot as I do to a good school, a clean election, an honest government. But some folks believe their money entitles them to warp the system. And the fact is that it often works. We usually don’t even know about it unless someone gets caught in the act.

That difference between fairness and the lack of it is the difference between the Good Place and the world we live in. In this world, sometimes what we owe one another is justice. And for all those people who try to buy their way around ethics and the law … well, I hope justice is what they get.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.