Obama critic indicted for campaign-finance fraud, obstruction

posted at 8:41 am on January 24, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

This strange announcement came last night from the US Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York. Author and conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who produced the documentary 2016: Obama’s America that went after Barack Obama in the middle of the last election cycle, has been indicted for allegedly pushing $20,000 in straw-man contributions into a Senate race in New York that was hopeless from the start:

In 2012, the Election Act limited both primary and general election campaign contributions to $2,500 for a total of $5,000 from any individual to any one candidate. In August 2012, D’SOUZA directed other individuals with whom he was associated to make contributions to the campaign committee for a candidate for the United States Senate (the “Campaign Committee”) that totaled $20,000. D’SOUZA then reimbursed those individuals for the contributions. By directing the illegal contributions to be made, D’SOUZA also caused the Campaign Committee to falsely report to the FEC the sources and amounts of those contributions to the campaign.

D’SOUZA, 52, of San Diego, California, is charged with one count of causing $20,000 in illegal campaign contributions to be made to a candidate for the United States Senate in calendar year 2012, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison. He also is charged with one count of causing false statements to be made to the FEC in connection with the illegal campaign contributions, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The Indictment is the result of a routine review by the FBI of campaign filings with the FEC by various candidates after the 2012 election for United States Senator in New York. Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the FBI.

A routine review, eh? At the very least, the report raises a few questions. The race, although not specified, appears to be the Senate election between Kirsten Gillibrand and Wendy Long in New York, in which Long lost to Gillibrand by forty-five points (72% to 27%). Why would D’Souza try to push illegal contributions in the low five figures and risk criminal prosecution in a race where tens of millions of dollars were spent, and where the challenger was utterly doomed? For that matter, why use straw men when D’Souza could have just bundled for Long instead, or set up a PAC?

On the other hand, the response from D’Souza’s defense team sounds as if there’s something to explain:

But his lawyer, Benjamin Brafman. released a statement to reporters saying that D’Souza’s efforts to help a friend running for the Senate in 2012 was “at most” an “act of misguided friendship.”

“Mr. D’Souza did not act with any corrupt or criminal intent whatsoever,” Brafman said in the statement. “He and the candidate have been friends since their college days, and “at worst, this was an act of misguided friendship by D’Souza. . .It is important to note that the indictment does not allege a corrupt relationship between Mr. D’Souza and the candidate.”

The indictment did not name the Senate candidate in the case. But it appears to be Wendy Long (R), who lost overwhelmingly in 2012 to incumbent Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat. Long raised less than $1 million for her long-shot campaign.

Campaign contribution limits are counterproductive and ultimately the cause of more corruption than they prevent. They should be eliminated, and replaced with full transparency on contributions that aggregate higher than $200 (the same limit as exists now) on campaign websites that will allow voters to see clearly who funds these campaigns. Until those laws change, though, we are bound to follow them. If D’Souza violated the law, then he’ll have to be held accountable … but it will be interesting to see in court how the feds “routinely” decided to look into his activities after producing 2016.

Ace counts this among quite a few “coincidences” involving critics of this administration.

Update: Via Instapundit, Ann Althouse expresses my thoughts on this succinctly:

I think it [the defense response] looks pretty much like a confession that D’Souza committed the criminal acts. What’s the defense? That he’s a good person who meant well and enjoyed camaraderie with the beneficiary of his illegal acts? I don’t think campaign finance laws work that way, but maybe I’m wrong. Personally, I avoid campaign finance because I think the law is set up to snag people on all sorts of weird details. I’m troubled by that, because it means that you can’t run for office unless you have plenty of legal advice, so how do you begin to run for office? It’s really oppressive. But if there’s going to be oppression like that, it can’t be an out that you didn’t mean to violate any law, can it?

I agree, if the investigations into the law don’t turn into selective prosecution for political purposes. How many of these cases involve Obama boosters rather than critics? How did prosecutors decide to look into D’Souza’s activities in the first place?

That is the real problem with creating these kind of Byzantine structures. It makes it easy to create criminals, and then those in power can use prosecutorial discretion to choose their targets. I don’t know that this is what happened here, but that’s the danger that this system of finance “reform” creates.

Update: Big thanks to the Drudge Report for the link — and they have another that reminds us the DoJ only charged a John Edwards donor with a misdemeanor for the same crime. That indictment came from the Bush administration in 2007, though, regarding the 2004 election.

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