By Penny Smith

In Atlas Shrugged, a fantasy novel favored by libertarians (emphasis on the fantasy), one of the persistent memes is “Who is John Galt?.” (Watch for the bumper stickers; I’ve seen them around and about for the past several years.) Galt is the man who divided the world into takers and makers, establishing a canyon retreat for the alpha-makers to await the utter destruction of Taker-World. Uber-male that he is, at one point in the novel Galt makes a 66-page speech about the state of the world, which he, ostensibly in his capitalist wisdom, understands better than most.

I see a lot of John Galt in Greg Lindberg. If you go to the web site for Eli Global (Eli as in Yale; the man went to college there) and click on his name, you’ll find a biography. He’s the youngest of five children. He was born in California. He started his first business while in college. He “love[s] … the written word” and believes in a free press. His business invests globally and, while focused on insurance and health care services, has branches in a variety of enterprises. Eli Global itself is an umbrella organization, located in a “small” office in Durham. It closed over 100 acquisitions in the past 17 years. Lindberg lives in the Research Triangle.

However, after reading it, I didn’t feel introduced to a person. I had a framework, but not much more. There’s nothing really about home and hearth, although there is a web-page photograph of him, two children and a woman cutting a blue ribbon. Nothing about civic participation, hobbies, or affiliations. Even the business itself remains vague.

In all the items I found about Lindberg, he is described as a “bootstrap entrepreneur,” a word that appears on his official Eli Global bio. Eli Global claims to embrace “a contrarian, decentralized business model,” whatever that means. On the same page is a photograph of a man in a blazer, shirt and jeans. He has a modern haircut, is blond, and in his forties. It is also the only photograph that you see in media stories of Lindberg and his political donations. Lindberg does not grant interviews.

Why does he matter? Last year, an off-year for election fundraising, Lindberg became the largest donor to Republican-leaning organizations and the Republican Party in North Carolina.

Lindberg is registered as an unaffiliated voter (his wife is registered as a Democrat, although she has matched Lindberg donations to certain candidates). In 2016 he contributed to Wayne Goodwin’s failed re-election campaign for insurance commissioner. Goodwin, a Democrat, probably got his attention, because part what Lindberg does involves insurance. His Republican opponent also got some Lindberg money, but returned it “out of an abundance of caution,” because of its owner’s ties with the insurance industry. Lindberg has also given generously to the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus Foundation, money that will be used to support African-American students at historically black colleges. The black legislators in that group are uniformly Democrats, but perhaps the point is to prove non-partisan status and to encourage future bootstrappers.

Those gifts pale in comparison to the big bucks that filtered into the coffers of groups supporting Dan Forest for Governor in 2020 (yes, that race is definitely on already.)

Lindberg, in 2017:

  • gave $1 million to Truth and Prosperity, a super PAC supporting Forest; that money has not yet been spent and the PAC is not supposed to coordinate with the Forest campaign;
  • was the only donor to the GOP Council of State Committee, which in turn bankrolled putting a $42,000 professional television studio in Forest’s Raleigh office (think lots of campaign ads on tax-payer time);
  • contributed $1.4 million to the NC Republican Council of State Committee (Forest runs that group and it will be campaigning on behalf of GOP candidates to statewide offices);
  • contributed over $890,000 to the North Carolina Republican Party (Art Pope only kicked in $50,000);
  • and his business associates and their wives contributed $31,000 to state Senator Wesley Meredith’s coffers, the co-chairman of the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee.

You can’t really find the man. No reporters need apply. A Dallas attorney, speaking on his behalf, noted that Lindberg will “support in a nonpartisan way candidates that are in tune with the issues affecting North Carolina business and its citizens.” The attorney notes that Lindberg has given to “both sides of the aisle.”

That’s true, up to a point. And the point appears to be at the doorstep of Dan Forest, for whom he hosted a fundraiser at his home in 2016. Given what we know of Forest’s extreme right positions, I have a hard time reconciling them with being “in tune” with the state writ large.

What’s going on here? As I begin to play a game of Chase the Money, I keep running into multiple organizations operating out of the same addresses with the same agents. There seem to be layers upon layers of cash and PACs floating around in the political ether and, now, at least one Galt-like guy who is head of a billion-dollar business that is itself somewhat mysterious.

Stay tuned. The billionaires are at the gate, not the barbarians, and they may be more dangerous than we think.