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Mark Robinson suggests he's being politically persecuted amid probe of wife's nonprofit

North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson announces his campaign for governor at a rally outside Ace Speedway in Elon, N.C. Saturday, April 22, 2023. (Lynn Hey / For WUNC)
Lynn Hey
North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson announces his campaign for governor at a rally outside Ace Speedway in Elon, N.C. Saturday, April 22, 2023.

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson spoke out recently about the “challenges” his wife is facing amid a state agency’s probe of her nonprofit, saying he and former President Donald Trump are “being pushed to the edge through an unfair system.”

In video of his remarks last weekend in Chadbourn at the Columbus County town’s Strawberry Festival, the Republican candidate for governor notes that his wife, Yolanda Hill, wasn’t with him at the event and she’s “been facing some challenges.”

He followed that comment by saying, “I wasn’t going to say this tonight but I’m going to say it: There are some people in our government that need to grow up. They need to understand they’re not in the government system, the seat that they sit in was not ordained for them to browbeat the people they don’t like, that they despise."

“Far too much of that is going on in our nation and our state right now … Folks like me, and President Trump and others, are being pushed to the edge through an unfair system," he added.

A spokesman for Robinson’s campaign did not respond to a request for the candidate to further explain his comments and concerns about the Department of Health and Human Services review of Hill’s nonprofit, Balanced Nutrition.

Hill and her attorney have met in recent weeks with DHHS officials following their decision to shut down the nonprofit, which helps childcare centers obtain federal funding for kids’ meals. The agency has asked her to produce a lengthy list of documents related to its operations.

Hill wrote to the agency in March that their review of the nonprofit’s operations and finances “makes us feel as if we are the target of some type of vendetta, be it personal or political.”

DHHS officials have said the current review was needed because of findings related to "menus, time sheets, Specific Prior Written Approval (SPWA) and Income Eligibility Applications (IEAs)/Enrollments” when the nonprofit went through a routine review process last year.

One issue highlighted in the DHHS records was that Balanced Nutrition at one point didn’t have a balanced budget. On a budget spreadsheet for the nonprofit dated 2023, an entry in the document noted that the group’s expenses were higher than its income.

Another budget document noted that Balanced Nutrition wasn’t in compliance with a program requirement that administrative costs, such as staff salaries, can’t exceed 15% of overall funding.

One of the administrative costs that may have contributed to that issue: Hill’s salary was about $140,000 per year as of last year — a big increase from the $71,000 salary she was paid in 2019, according to the group’s budget documents.

Robinson himself worked for the nonprofit before he was elected lieutenant governor, and he wrote in his autobiography that Hill’s success with Balanced Nutrition allowed him to quit his job and focus on politics.

In the Chadbourn speech, Robinson had a warning for his political opponents: “I can guarantee you tomorrow when the shoe is on the other foot and it’s something that they said that others don't like, and the system comes after them, they’ll remember those days when they grinned when others were being treated unfairly.”

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.