Ex-North Carolina congressional candidate enters guilty plea

March 8, 2023 GMT

RALEIGH. N.C. (AP) — A former North Carolina congressional candidate pleaded guilty Wednesday to a federal campaign finance violation related to a loan from a family member that prosecutors said was falsely portrayed in campaign reports as originating from her own personal funds.

Lynda Bennett, 65, of Maggie Valley, entered the plea to one count of accepting contributions in the name of another in U.S. District Court in Washington, according to a U.S. Justice Department news release and court documents. Bennett’s sentencing is set for June 20. Bennett’s plea agreement said attorneys in the case have jointly recommended probation for the crime, which is a felony.

Bennett, who was formally accused in late January in what’s called a criminal information filed by Justice Department attorneys, ran unsuccessfully for the 2020 Republican nomination for the 11th Congressional District seat. She lost in a GOP primary runoff to Madison Cawthorn, who ultimately won the November 2020 general election.

Prosecutors said Bennett borrowed $25,000 from a family member in late 2019, representing that she needed the money for personal expenses because she had to spend a lot of her own cash on her campaign. Soon after depositing that money, Bennett caused $80,000 — including the $25,000 in loaned funds — to be transferred into her campaign committee, the government said. She reported through her campaign that the full $80,000 was a loan using her own personal funds, rather than disclosing some of it came from another person, according to the Justice Department news release.

Bennett attorney Kearns Davis said in an email after Wednesday’s hearing that “Lynda is grateful for the support of her family and friends, and glad to move on to the next step in the process.”

Bennett, a real estate agent, was one of several Republicans seeking the 11th District seat that was held by former Rep. Mark Meadows. He was vacating the seat to become former President Donald Trump’s chief of staff. Bennett was a friend of Meadows’ wife and endorsed by Meadows and later Trump.