February 26th, 2014

D’Souza versus other campaign finance cases

[NOTE: I originally wrote some of this as part of a comment of mine, but I thought I'd highlight it in a post of its own.]

The D’Souza case has sent a chill up the spines of conservatives and other Obama opponents, exactly as it probably was intended to do. The talking point about the case from the left is that, of course, there’s nothing special about D’Souza and that he is not the subject of special “consideration” in being prosecuted for this offense. Others have been so prosecuted—including, for example, Hillary Clinton contributor William Danielczyk.

But the Danielczyk case is not really parallel to the D’Souza case. The similarity is that campaign contributions were involved, and straw donors. However, the Danielczyk case involved direct corporate contributions (which have been banned for a century), ten times as much money as with D’Souza, as well as many more people:

Prosecutors had accused Danielczyk and Biagi of lining up individual donors to contribute to former secretary of state Clinton’s senate and presidential campaigns in 2006 and 2008, then reimbursing them with money from Galen. They used at least 35 other employees or friends to disguise more than $186,000 in contributions, then paid back the so-called straw donors with money from Galen’s corporate coffers, court filings show.

A better comparison to the D’Souza case would be the Pierce O’Donnell case. Here are the facts in O’Donnell:

O’Donnell was indicted in 2007 and charged with arranging “conduit contributions” to John Edwards’ presidential campaign. O’Donnell was accused of working with an unnamed co-conspirator to solicit contributions for Edwards from employees from O’Donnell’s law firm, with the promise to reimburse them for the contributions. In all, O’Donnell and his co-conspirator raised $26,000 in conduit contributions, according to the grand jury’s indictment.

But O’Donnell was allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanors and got by with basically a wrist slap. And in fact, it was his second campaign finance offense, not his first (see this), which may explain why authorities decided to prosecute him.

So, cases such as D’Souza’s are indeed sometimes prosecuted. Accent is on the “sometimes.” In fact, compared to the frequency of the offense itself, one can assume that they are probably quite rare. But there’s no doubt that sometimes Democrats are prosecuted as well as Republicans, and that it can be hard to know what motivates any particular prosecution.

However, see this for an overview:

Dominic Gentile of Gordon Silver, who represented Nevada campaign finance defendant Harvey Whittemore, conducted exhaustive research on so-called conduit payments of the sort D’Souza is accused of making. In Whittemore’s sentencing memo, he documented civil and criminal penalties in “straw donor” cases. “Twenty thousand dollars?” Gentile told me. “I’ve never heard of a $20,000 criminal case” for campaign finance violations.” And at D’Souza’s arraignment Friday in Manhattan federal court, his own lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, told U.S. District Judge Richard Berman that whatever D’Souza did, his conduct wasn’t criminal.

So even if one concedes that D’Souza was guilty, he is not guilty as charged. The charge is excessive and highly unusual.

Would there have been the same sort of headlines had D’Souza been charged with a misdemeanor? I doubt it, although the MSM would still have made the most of it. But criminal charges are so much more effective, and how many people pay attention to these fine distinctions?

Perhaps the goal (other than tarnishing D’Souza) is to make him plead guilty to a misdemeanor in some sort of plea bargain. That would at least make the punishment fit the crime, although there would always be the added punishment of harming his reputation. But if he is guilty and copped a plea to a misdemeanor, at least that would be roughly equivalent to what happened to other people (such as lawyer Tab Turner) under somewhat similar circumstances.

Note that, as in the O’Donnell and Danielczyk cases, Turner solicited the contributions from co-workers or employees. In addition, Turner (as in Danielczyk) used corporate funds for the reimbursement of the straw donors. Turner, like O’Donnell, was also a lawyer:

Tab Turner solicited four $2,000 contributions from his co-workers at Little Rock law firm Turner & Associates in January 2003 and illegally reimbursed them for their contributions using a company credit card, according to the FEC. He also used a company credit card to make an illegal campaign contribution in his own name and to pay for various campaign expenses. Federal law prohibits donors from making contributions in others’ names and prohibits direct corporate contributions to a federal candidate.

I’ve been having difficulty finding the names/status of the people D’Souza is alleged to have involved as straw donors. But so far I have found no evidence his actions involved a corporation, corporate funds, or co-workers or employees. If there is no such involvement, that would further bolster the argument that D’Souza should be charged with a lesser offense, not a greater one, than the others, and would support the idea of political motivated prosecution/persecution—or, at the very least, politically motivated overcharging.

7 Responses to “D’Souza versus other campaign finance cases”

  1. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Of course this is a case of politically motivated prosecution/persecution. The greater the punishment, the longer it remains on the radar screen, the greater the intimidation of conservatives, which is what this is really all about. That and removing an arrow (D’Souza’s documentaries) from the right’s playbook.

    I cannot think of one area where the left is not attacking the right. It’s a comprehensive, ‘full court press’ (basketball term). Designed to disrupt, disorganize and neutralize the right’s every effort.

    It is IMO, far too comprehensive to be anything less than a planned strategic offensive. Lots of bit players and a cast of many characters (Obama, Hillary, Holder, etc) but the man behind the curtain is George Soros.

    “The main obstacle to a stable and just world order is the United States. For my agenda to advance, I need to have America come down in a controlled descent, not a complete crash.” – George Soros

  2. Ann Says:

    About who those straw donors were — I found this in a Newsday article:

    Cohen [the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case] said D’Souza had a person he lived with and a person he employed each give two $5,000 contributions in the names of themselves and their spouses, and promised to repay them.

  3. parker Says:

    This one of the ever expanding efforts of the messiah to ‘burn the witches’ who question my holiness.

  4. Ymarsakar Says:

    So are we finally seeing the submerged iceberg is this still only 10% of the Left’s operations?

    I think with one more Fast and Furious operation (this time packing and detonating nukes under a false flag), should raise it above 10%.

  5. Ray Says:

    The over criminalization of everyday activities has attracted lots of attention. See here.
    http://www.alec.org/publications/criminalizing-america/

  6. Zachriel Says:

    neo-neocon: But O’Donnell was allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanors and got by with basically a wrist slap.

    After being charged with three felonies.

    neo-neocon: But so far I have found no evidence his actions involved a corporation, corporate funds, or co-workers or employees.

    Ann addressed this above.

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    Zach:

    I’m answering you in case some non-trolls come across this thread and are interested in my response.

    In the D’Souza case he has been charged with more serious offenses than in almost all similar cases, as the Dominic Gentile quote I offered in the post makes clear. O’Donnell’s initial charge is probably the only exception, where O’Donnell was charged with a felony offense for a similar money amount involving straw donors, although he was allowed to plead guilty to only a misdemeanor.

    However, there are several important differences between O’Donnell and D’Souza that point to the reasons why O’Donnell’s case was actually more serious and should have been treated more seriously than the D’Souza case. The first is that O’Donnell’s violations involved quite a few employees, not just one.

    By the way, O’Donnell’s lawyers alleged that O’Donnell was the victim of politically-motivated retribution by the Bush administration because he was an outspoken critic of Bush, and he was being charged so much more seriously for offenses which were usually handled with a slap on the wrist. If that’s true—and we don’t know at this point if it was true or false (although he certainly was a relatively minor and obscure critic of Bush, as opposed to the far more public and vocal D’Souza re Obama)—it would have been wrong on the part of the Bush administration, but it would argue even more strongly that the D’Souza AND O’Donnell charges were BOTH politically motivated.

    However, as I already said, O’Donnell involved many more employees (the quote is ” the contributions of $2,000 per person were made primarily by employees of O’Donnell’s law firm and some of his family members ,” and since the total was $26,000 it’s obvious that more than one employee was involved, most likely up to 10 or so). What’s more, the O’Donnell case was distinguished from the D’Souza case by the fact—which was probably very important in the legal sense—that this was a second violation for O’Donnell. That would mean that the authorities might have been scrutinizing him more carefully in the first place not for political reasons but because he had already pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge for a very similar (although even greater) violation a few years earlier, involving 26 individuals who were employees, and a larger total sum of money ($50,000). That would mean that O’Donnell could be expected to be treated more harshly than D’Souza, for whom this would be a first violation, and a more minor one at that.

    I think the facts make it clear that these two cases are very different.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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