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GOP candidate for NC governor is inflating government spending while his nonprofit rakes in tax dollars

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican in his bid to become North Carolina’s first black governor Mark Robinson criticizes government spending as a “plantation of welfare and victimhood” that has plunged generations of black people into “dependency” and poverty.

But without him, the lieutenant governor’s political rise would not have been possible.

For the past decade, Robinson’s household has depended on income from Balanced Nutrition Inc., a nonprofit founded by his wife, Yolanda Hill, which managed a free lunch program for North Carolina children. The organization, funded entirely by taxpayers, has collected about $7 million in public funding since 2017 while paying at least $830,000 in salaries to Hill, Robinson and other members of their families, tax returns and state records show.

The income provided the Robinsons with a measure of stability after decades of struggle, including multiple bankruptcies, evictions and misdemeanor charges — later dropped — for writing bad checks. According to Robinson, the financial turnaround the organization achieved also made possible his entry into North Carolina government.

“Yolanda’s nonprofit provided her with a salary enough to support us,” Robinson wrote in his 2022 memoir, noting that the growth gave him the freedom to quit his furniture manufacturing job in 2018 and pursue a career in populist conservative politics.

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“I was giving speeches or being in my wife’s office in town helping her with her work,” he wrote of the combination of his early political activities at Balanced Nutrition, which shows he earned about $40,000 in 2018. “When I ran for office, I stopped doing that. … Now my son does it.”

But now, in the final months of a swing state campaign, the nonprofit that provided the family with a vital lifeline has also become a political liability. In March, government regulators launched an investigation into the organization’s finances after noticing years of accounting irregularities, including more than $100,000 in unaccounted expenses.

The research adds to Robinson’s challenges. He has already attracted negative attention for his history of inflammatory comments, including calling former first lady Michelle Obama a man and using the word “filth” when discussing gay and transgender people.

Robinson, who would oversee a state budget of more than $30 billion if elected governor, has denied any wrongdoing and labeled the investigation as politically motivated. His campaign declined to make Robinson or any of his family members available for an interview. But campaign spokesman Michael Lonergan defended Balance Nutrition’s work and cited other state audits that were separate from the current investigation.

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“Lt. Governor Robinson is proud of the work his wife has done to help needy children access nutritious meals,” said Lonergan. “Democrats are arming the bureaucracy against the families of their political opponents.”

PERSONAL STRUGGLE

Robinson often speaks of struggle and redemption, setting him apart from career politicians and wealthy influencers in Raleigh. This compelling autobiography, combined with Robinson’s brash talk, has endeared him to supporters of Donald Trump, who endorsed Robinson at a rally in March. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee often calls Robinson “Martin Luther King on steroids.”

“I grew up poor,” Robinson says frequently, describing his childhood as the son of an alcoholic father who died while he was in elementary school. He says he “lost my car, my house,” “was forced into bankruptcy,” and “lost my job not once but twice.”

“Like you, I don’t need a politician to tell me what to worry about,” he says, pointing to the “nagging feeling” of money problems.

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From the 1990s through recent years, Robinson and Hill endured protracted financial struggles, but ones that are more complicated than what he usually tells voters.

The couple filed for bankruptcy three times between 1998 and 2003 and did not file federal income taxes for five years until they were forced to do so during the bankruptcy proceedings.

They left a trail of aggrieved creditors, including the Girl Scouts, court documents show. Among them was a former landlord whose wife was dying of cancer when the Robinsons short-changed him $2,000 in rent, according to local news reports and documents from a 2012 case.

A bankruptcy judge dismissed their 2003 bankruptcy case after the Robinsons failed to make the payments to their creditors that they had agreed to in court. The case ended when Robinson and Hill paid about $9,000 on about $71,000 in debt payments negotiated in bankruptcy court.

Lonergan called the bankruptcies “old news” that only proves Robinson has seen “the struggles” of many North Carolinians.

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Barrow reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writer Gary Robertson in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.

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