“Brazen.’’

In playground parlance, the word essentially means “I can’t believe you thought you’d get away with that.’’

Welcome to the playground North Carolina. A political playground where the rule seems to be that rules are for suckers.

It’s not been a great year for building confidence in state politics. 

A cloud over the integrity of elections has yet to dissipate. The state’s 9th congressional seat sits vacant after the November election was invalidated after allegations of ballot tampering in favor of Republican nominee Rev. Mark Harris surfaced.

And now there’s a new cloud, this one involving campaign contributions and pay-to-play politics.

This one involves the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party and the state’s biggest political donor. Robin Hayes, GOP head and a former congressman, and businessman Greg Lindberg and two business associates have been arrested on bribery charges.

The group was indicted by a federal grand jury last month. The indictments were sealed until last week, when the four appeared before a U.S. magistrate judge and entered not guilty pleas.

According to the indictment, the men were busy trying to bribe Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, a Republican, by dangling more than $1 million in political contributions in exchange for regulatory help and the sidelining of a troublesome regulator under Causey’s command.

To his credit, Causey was having none of it and got in touch with federal investigators. He recorded conversations later used in the indictment.

Brian Benczkowski, who serves as assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s criminal division in Washington, used the word “brazen’’ in his description of the scheme, which he indicated may draw in others.

The indictment spins a tale of cloak-and-dagger meetings, secret conversations discussing quid pro quos and of replacing the regulator in question with one of Lindberg’s lieutenants. 

Mainly, it spins a tale of how corrosive the role of money in politics has become. 

Lindberg has given more than $5 million in political contributions to Tar Heel politicians and parties in recent years. Of late his attention seems to have been on Causey and Lt. Gov. Dan Forrest, a Republican evidently eyeing a gubernatorial bid. He has given on the other side of the aisle as well, notably to Causey’s predecessor, Wayne Goodwin, who is now the state Democratic Party chairman.

The seven-figure money being thrown toward Causey (who makes around $130,000 a year) by a single donor shows how far money has infiltrated politics. At least in this case the donor is known; a maze of dark money groups and party PACs can easily make the source of overpowering dollars to run overpowering campaigns virtually unknowable.

A return to the type of publicly-financed campaigns such as North Carolina enjoyed until recently in certain judicial campaigns would remove the ability of powerful interests to leverage public office for gain, and the need for those holding public office to raise obscene amounts of funds to run campaigns.

On the current playground, a hefty bribe would likely seem tempting to many.

We’re proud Causey didn’t bite.

There’s no guarantee the next politician won’t.

You have to wonder if Causey hadn’t come forward, if we’d ever have known what went down.

That isn’t reassuring. We can’t rely on personal virtue when such a flood of money is sloshing around the system meant to work for all the people of the state, not just the well-heeled.

It’s time to take a hard look at turning that tap off at the source.

Otherwise, the players on the state political playground will continue to be brazen.