The Washington Post
Trump-endorsed congressional candidate admits to taking illegal donation
A failed North Carolina congressional candidate who was endorsed by President Donald Trump in 2020 pleaded guilty Wednesday to committing a felony campaign-finance violation during her bid to replace former House member Mark Meadows (R), a political ally and family friend, after Meadows chose not to seek reelection.
Lynda Bennett, 65, admitted in U.S. District Court in Washington that she borrowed $25,000 from a family member in late 2019 and illegally funneled the money, in her own name, into her Republican campaign in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District.
Disguising the source of the $25,000 violated a campaign-finance law that limited House-race contributions from outside parties to a total of $5,600 in the 2020 election cycle, authorities said in a court filing. As a candidate, Bennett was not subject to the restrictions and could loan or donate as much money as she wanted.
Bennett, a real estate agent from Maggie Valley, N.C., near the Tennessee border, lost in a GOP primary to Madison Cawthorn, who went on to win the 2020 general election but was defeated last year after serving one House term.
In pleading guilty to a felony charge Wednesday, Bennett answered a series of pro forma questions from Judge Christopher R. Cooper but did not elaborate on her actions. Although advisory federal sentencing guidelines call for a prison term of up to a year in her case, Bennett’s attorney and prosecutors agreed in a plea bargain to jointly recommend probation.
“The recommendation is not binding on the court,” Cooper said in warning Bennett that he was not precluded from imposing incarceration. He scheduled sentencing for June 20.
Bennett declined to comment as she left the courtroom. “Lynda is grateful for the support of her family and friends, and glad to move on to the next step in the process,” her lawyer, Kearns Davis, said later in an email. He would not disclose who loaned the money to his client. Prosecutors have identified that person in court only as “Individual A.”
In a statement, the Justice Department said Bennett “borrowed $25,000 from a family member, representing that she needed the money for personal expenses because she had to spend a large amount of her own money on her campaign.”
However, “the day after depositing the loaned money into a personal account, Bennett then caused $80,000, including the $25,000 in loaned funds, to be transferred” to her campaign’s bank account in violation of federal law, the statement said.
After Meadows announced in December 2019 that he would not seek reelection, and subsequently became Trump’s White House chief of staff, a dozen candidates hoping to replace him competed in the March 3, 2020, GOP primary in North Carolina’s 11th District, in the western part of the state.
Because none of the 12 garnered at least 30 percent of the vote, the two top vote-getters — Bennett (22.7 percent) and Cawthorn (20.4 percent) — faced each other in a June 23, 2020, primary runoff election. At the time, Cawthorn was a 24-year-old real estate investor and motivational speaker, little known outside the state.
In addition to Bennett’s money advantage — she raised $366,500 compared with Cawthorn’s $201,700, according to campaign finance records — she gained endorsements from Trump, Meadows and other prominent Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), as well as from several major conservative groups.
On Twitter, a few weeks before the runoff, Trump called Bennett “a great fighter and ally in North Carolina” who was “strong on Crime, Borders, Military, our Great Vets and 2A. She will be a great help to me in DC.”
But Cawthorn, who would soon become a controversial House firebrand, trounced Bennett in the June primary, with 65.8 percent of the vote, and went on to handily win Meadow’s old seat in the 2020 general election. In his bid for a second term, however, Cawthorn was defeated in last year’s GOP primary by current Rep. Chuck Edwards.
“[Bennett] borrowed $25,000 from a family member, representing that she needed the money for personal expenses because she had to spend a large amount of her own money on her campaign.” The Justice Department, in a statement about lynda Bennett, 65