[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.