Isle GOP files federal campaign complaint
Democrats allegedly circumvented donation limits in Rhode Island
The Hawaii Republican Party is filing a federal complaint accusing Democrats in Hawaii, Maine and Massachusetts of illegally laundering campaign money for a Rhode Island U.S. Senate candidate, state party officials said yesterday.
The complaint alleges that Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown's Senate campaign broke campaign finance laws by routing money through state parties to avoid contribution limits, said Keith Nakano, executive director of the Hawaii Republican Party.
"There is reason to believe that the Brown campaign provided an alleged contribution laundering scheme, whereby it steers donors to the Hawaii, Maine and Massachusetts state parties, with the explicit or implicit agreement that the state parties would in turn contribute to the Brown campaign," according to the complaint, read to The Associated Press by Nakano.
He said he did not know whether the Republican parties in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine would sign on to the complaint.
Federal election laws prohibit organizations from passing on contributions in someone else's name, and they also disallow money exchanges that are made in order to avoid campaign donation limits on individuals, Federal Elections Commission officials have said.
The Brown campaign said the Republicans allegations are baseless.
"It's clear that Republicans are just playing politics with this," said Matt Burgess, campaign spokesman. "As we've said before, this was all completely legal, and that's what the FEC will find."
The complaint will be signed by Hawaii Republican Party Chairman Sam Aiona today. It will later be sent to Federal Elections Commission General Counsel Lawrence Norton.
"After doing careful research, we feel that what the Hawaii Democratic Party did is a serious violation," Aiona said. "We also feel like the FEC should take a look at other states as well."
Brickwood Galuteria, chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party, said the party did nothing wrong. "We welcome it and stand by our earlier statement that our actions are not improper," Galuteria said.
Matt Wylie, executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party, said it had made no decisions about whether to join the complaint.
"This is Hawaii's deal," he said. "We've been reading the reports, and we're still just trying to gather information."
The chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, Patrick Colwell, announced his resignation Monday after the party's executive committee discussed its $10,000 contribution to a Rhode Island political campaign.
"The Republican state parties hereby request that the commission undertake an immediate investigation into this matter, and if the alleged scheme violates act and commission regulations, impose the maximum penalties," the complaint says.
The complaint stems from a series of donations involving the Brown campaign and the Democratic parties in Hawaii, Maine and Massachusetts around the New Year.
The parties sent a total of $25,000 in donations to Brown, and then they received a total of $30,000 a few days later in the form of private donations from a top Brown supporter, businessman Richard Bready, who had exceeded his legal limit for contributing to the Brown campaign.
The money has now been returned to the state parties.
Jane Sugimura, treasurer of the Hawaii party, told The Associated Press on March 1 that a Brown campaign staffer arranged a tit-for-tat deal in which the party would donate to Brown's campaign in exchange for money contributed to it by Brown supporters. Her comments led to a barrage of media inquiries, and she later said there was no such deal.
Brown said that he personally asked supporters to give money to three state Democratic parties that contributed to his Senate campaign, but he never made a deal to illegally funnel donations to his campaign.
Brown acknowledged that he requested that Bready, chairman and CEO of Nortek Inc., and David Messer, president of California-based Sempra Energy Trading, donate to the three parties. Bready gave a total of $17,000 to them between Jan. 5 and 13.
Messer and his wife, Barbara Duberstein, gave $7,000 to the Massachusetts Democratic Party.
In addition, Ashley Flanagan, Brown's national finance director, asked venture capitalist Jonathan Lavine, Brown's national finance chairman, to donate to the parties, Brown said. Lavine's wife, Jeanne, gave $6,000 to the Maine party, he said.
The complaint will leave it up to the federal government to decide whether it wants to investigate the Brown campaign, the donors or the state Democratic parties, Aiona said.