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Busted? NC Lawsuit Ties Casinos, Campaign Money, And Defamation Claims

Source: The Charlotte Observer

A lawsuit filed by former Rockingham County Commissioner Craig Travis claims that a dark money political group, along with the Berger family, ended his political career as retribution for not supporting a plan to build a Stokesdale casino.

Travis filed the lawsuit against Commissioner Kevin Berger, the son of NC Senate leader Phil Berger, alleging that Berger helped launch a series of attack ads containing false statements that eventually cost Travis his election. Berger is one of three commissioners, along with the chairwoman of Rockingham County’s Republican Party and three political organizations, named as defendants in the libel lawsuit.  

“This unlawful course of action was financially supported by a Virginia-based dark money organization, which through local conduits, spent tens of thousands of dollars to oppose the plaintiff’s campaign for a seat on the Board of Commissioners,” the lawsuit states.

The saga, the lawsuit states, began as far back as August 2021, when NC Development Holdings, LLC, was formed in Delaware. The president of the company is Joseph Weinberg, the chief executive officer of Cordish Gaming Group. The lawsuit alleges that Cordish executives made donations to Republican members of North Carolina’s General Assembly between Nov. 2, 2022, and Jan. 26, 2023.

Weinberg personally made maxed-out contributions of $5,600 to NC Senate leader Phil Berger. Soon after, the Cordish Gaming Group applied to rezone 200 acres of land in Stokesdale, just inside Rockingham County’s boundary.

In June 2023, all of the Rockingham County commissioners were in Maryland meeting with Cordish’s team, the lawsuit states. The lawsuit alleges that no minutes from this meeting were made available to the public and there was no notice ahead of time, despite a quorum of the board being present.

Later that fall, the two officials who voted against the casino plan were removed from office by the other county commissioners. One of the members was replaced by the husband of the Rockingham County Republican Party chairwoman.

At times, the North Carolina Conservatives Fund used funding from GOPAC Inc., a tax-exempt Republican group, to mail attack ads against Travis to voters. The attacks ranged from allegedly editing Travis’s interviews to mislead voters to saying he stole his opponents’ campaign signs. Berger sits on GOPAC’s advisory board. 

The lawsuit is ongoing, but the damage to Travis’s political career may be permanent. 

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