Feds should investigate shady political donations
Democratic parties in Hawaii and two other states donated money to a Rhode Island candidate for the U.S. Senate and then received money from the candidate's supporters.
RHODE Island's secretary of state calls a peculiar series of political contributions
to his Senate campaign and by his supporters to Democratic parties in Hawaii, Massachusetts and Maine "an appearance problem." Indeed, the donations have all the markings of money laundering intended to circumvent contribution limits. They should be investigated by the Federal Election Commission to determine if fines are warranted.
Matt Brown and the recipient states returned the money to the contributors, but only after the Associated Press shined a light on the transactions. Jane Sugimura, the Hawaii Democratic Party treasurer, initially told the AP she understood that the party gave a donation to the Brown campaign in exchange for money to be received from Brown supporters, but she now denies such explicit illegality.
Brown is running on a clean-government platform against former Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee. Brown obviously is desperate for money. He has raised only $200,000 for the primary, compared to more than $1 million gathered by Whitehouse. Chafee put together a campaign chest of $7.2 million.
Rich Pelletier, Brown's field director, says he contacted the three states' parties and asked for contributions. He maintains that he told party officials only that he would try to help them raise at least as much as they would give to Brown's campaign.
On Dec. 31, the Brown campaign was sent $5,000 by Hawaii's Democratic Party and $10,000 by each of the two other states' parties. In early January, Brown says he personally asked four Brown supporters to donate to the three state parties.
Contributions to the state parties came from Richard Bready, chief executive of Providence-based Nortek Inc., David Messer, president of California-based Sempra Energy Trading, Messer's wife, and the wife of venture capitalist Jonathan Lavine. All four had maxed out on their direct contributions to Brown's campaign.
The three state parties briefly benefited financially from the transactions. Hawaii Democrats received $6,000 from Bready while the Massachusetts and Maine parties, which gave a combined $20,000 to the Brown campaign, received $24,000 from Bready, the Messers and Lavine's wife.
Brickwood Galuteria, chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party, concedes that the party "made a mistake," but only because the contribution to Brown was made in a contested primary race, contrary to party policy. "We didn't do anything wrong," Sugimura insists.
Their claimed innocence is humorous. Federal law prohibits contributions to candidates to be funneled through a third entity, such as a political party, to get around limits on individual contributions.
If such implied -- if true -- reciprocity were deemed legal, it would open the floodgates to similar winks and nudges. If it already is "standard operating procedure," as University of Hawaii political science professor Ira Rohter attests, a broad investigation is needed.