FBI probing straw-man donor scheme backing Dem challenger to Rubio
posted at 9:01 am on November 2, 2016 by Ed Morrissey
Most politicians make it through an election cycle without being tainted by a straw-man donor scheme, but Rep. Patrick Murphy is no ordinary politician. The Florida challenger to Marco Rubio’s Senate seat wound up connected to not just one but two straw-man donor schemes in three days — albeit apparently unwittingly. The FBI has opened up an investigating an alleged pipeline of crony cash into Murphy’s flailing campaign:
The FBI is investigating an alleged illegal donation scheme involving a wealthy Saudi family that supports Democratic Florida Senate candidate Patrick Murphy.
The Hill has found no evidence that Murphy himself was involved in, or even aware of, the alleged scheme. The Murphy campaign declined to say whether the candidate is aware of the FBI probe, but the campaign said neither Murphy nor his campaign staff is being investigated. …
The allegation — originally submitted by a Republican super PAC run by a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — is that Murphy’s high school friend and major political donor, Ibrahim Al-Rashid, coordinated a “straw donor” scheme to boost Murphy.
Al-Rashid didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. And Murphy’s campaign declined to say whether Murphy’s attorneys had discussed the FBI investigation with Al-Rashid’s attorney.
In other words, al-Rashid wasn’t just some guy or an random donor. The Free Beacon’s Brent Scher reported on the super-PAC allegations two weeks ago, and noted that Murphy and al-Rashid have partnered since 2011 to coordinate big-ticket donations to Florida Democrats (legally in these cases) in order to boost their standing within the party. They’ve been partners in political influence for years, so it stretches credulity to think that al-Rashid would have operated a straw-man scheme while keeping Murphy in the dark about it — if indeed that’s what al-Rashid did.
Scher also points out a connection to the Clinton Foundation, although the complaint doesn’t include Hillary Clinton among the beneficiaries of the alleged scheme:
The complaint laid out evidence that a network of donors was contributing the maximum allowed amount of money to both Murphy and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (D.) on behalf of al-Rashid.
Al-Rashid is the son of a Saudi Arabian billionaire who has donated between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation.
The complaint identified a number of donors in Pennsylvania who were related to al-Rashid through Budman who made large contributions to Murphy and Crist on nearly identical dates as al-Rashid himself.
Incredibly, this is the second time this week that Murphy’s campaign has had to deal with straw-man donor allegations. The campaign had to return over $21,000 in donations on Monday that came from employees of a Boston law firm that assigned bonuses to cover political contributions. That turned out to be a million-dollar scheme for Democrats, including Hillary Clinton:
Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.) is returning money he received from a fundraiser with a Boston law firm.
Murphy, who is running for Senate against incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio (R) in a race that could decide which party controls the upper chamber in 2017, has decided to donate $21,800 to the U.S. Treasury, according to his campaign spokesman.
Murphy’s decision came after a Saturday report about Boston’s Thornton Law Firm from the Boston Globe Spotlight team and the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog.
The report said that lawyers with Thornton received bonuses totaling more than $1 million that reimbursed their political donations to Democratic political candidates.
The Globe’s report explains how Thornton Law became a Democratic Party favorite:
From 2010 through 2014, Strouss and Bradley, along with founding partner Michael Thornton and his wife, donated nearly $1.6 million to Democratic Party fund-raising committees and a parade of politicians — from Senate minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada to Hawaii gubernatorial candidate David Ige to Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Over the same span, the lawyers received $1.4 million listed as “bonuses” in Thornton Law Firm records; more than 280 of the contributions precisely matched bonuses that were paid within 10 days.
That payback system, which involved other partners as well, helped make Thornton the 11th-ranked law firm nationally for political contributions in 2014, according to data analyzed by the center, even though it is not among the 100 largest in Massachusetts.
Note well the name Elizabeth Warren on this list, who campaigned to “get money out of politics,” and has made class warfare her one-note bugle song. Guess what? It turns out that Democrats in Massachusetts made donations from entities like Thornton illegal, period:
When political donors are repaid for their donations, it can conceal the real source of contributions, and enable the unnamed source of the funds to exceed state and federal contribution limits. And in some states — Massachusetts among them — political donations to state candidates from corporations and partnerships such as Thornton Law Firm are flatly illegal.
Hence the need for a straw-man system. Thornton hired an ex-prosecutor to argue that the “bonuses” were mislabeled, and that the payments were advances on equity within the firm. In other words, they were loans, not bonuses, and would have to get paid back when they retired or left the firm. If that’s the case, then the lawyers and other employees at Thornton would have gotten a big surprise at the end of their tenure — and still might.
The more curious part of this in Murphy’s case is why he needed the cash in the first place. Murphy’s father has poured money into his son’s campaign through at least two super-PACs. Tom Murphy’s contributions hit $2.8 million two weeks ago when he dropped another $1 million into the kitty to pressure the super-PAC into reopening their wallets in Florida to help out Patrick:
Tom Murphy’s latest major gift to the Senate Majority PAC — revealed in a new campaign finance disclosure report filed Thursday — means he’s spent at least $2.8 million on Democratic efforts directly supporting Patrick Murphy this cycle.
It was the second $1 million contribution Tom Murphy made to the Senate Majority PAC since this summer — and it came on the same day in September he also gave another $250,000 to “Floridians for a Strong Middle Class,” a super PAC dedicated to supporting Murphy’s Senate campaign.
Patrick Murphy has come under scrutiny because of his father’s generous support. His former primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, and at least one conservative group have each alleged Tom Murphy’s donations constitute illegal coordination between Murphy’s campaign and the independent super PACs — something Murphy’s campaign has called a “frivolous and unfounded attack.”
There are a lot of questions about Patrick Murphy and his financing. That may be why Rubio’s up 5.6 points in the RCP average and led by nine points in the latest NY Times/Siena poll released over the weekend. All those strawmen, and yet the crows are circling.