disclose, denny

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Hastert responds to CREW

updated - see below
This just in from CREW:
February 13, 2006
FEC Responds to CREW's Complaint Requesting Investigation into Foreign Donations to Speaker Hastert's Campaign

On August 16, 2005, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) requesting an investigation into whether Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert's campaign committee illegally accepted campaign contributions from foreign nationals in 2000 and 2001.

CREW based its complaint on an article appearing in the September issue of Vanity Fair in which it was reported that former F.B.I. translator Sibel Edomonds reviewed wiretap recordings involving an F.B.I. target at Chicago, Illinois' Turkish Consulate, as well as members of the American-Turkish Council and the Assembly of Turkish American Associations. According to Ms. Edmonds, the recordings indicated that an F.B.I. target had arranged for tens of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions to be sent to Rep. Hastert's campaign committee in small (i.e., less than $200) checks that did not have to be itemized.

Hastert for Congress received $110,860.75 in unitemized contributions in 2001 and $72,275 in unitemized contributions in 2000.

Federal election campaign law strictly prohibits foreign nationals from making political contributions and prohibits political committees from accepting campaign contributions from foreign nationals. If a committee receives a contribution of questionable legality, it must make at least one written or oral request for evidence that the contribution is legal and either confirm the legality of the contribution or refund the contribution.

Today, CREW received an answer from the Federal Elections Commission. In their reponse, they wrote:

"On January 24, 2006, the Federal Election Commission reviewed the allegations in your complaint dated August 16, 2005, and found that, on the basis of the information provided in your complaint, and information provided by the Hastert for Congress Committee and Dallas Ingemunson, in her official capacity as treasurer, there is no reason to believe the respondents violated the Act or Commission regulations as alleged in the complaint. Accordingly, on January 24, 2006, the Commission closed the file in this matter."
FEC's full response here (pdf).

From the pdf (my transcription, errors are mine):
"HFCC (Hastert for Congress) responded via affadavit that it never knowingly accepted contributions from foreign nationals, and attached a list of all unitemized contributions from 1996 to 2002, none of which seem to be of questionable origin


To refute these allegations, HFCC provided a detailed affadavit from it's assistant treasurer, which included a 159-page attachment listing the names and addresses of all individuals who contributed less than $200 between 1996 and 2002. In her affadavit, the assistant treasurer stated... to her knowledge, HFCC "never solicited, accepted or received funds from a contributor or donor using a foreign passport, providing a foreign address , using a check... from a foreign bank... [or] where the bank identification or the account ownership information imprinted on the contribution check indicates a foreign address


The assistant treasurer also stated that over 90% of all unitemized contributions came from residents of Illinois and that 70% of the contributions came from annual low-ticket-price (between $25 and $150) events from Speaker Hastert's District"
(NB: the word 'the' added on revision - as i noted "errors are mine"!)

*cough* bullshit *cough*

we've already outlined many of the reasons that the "no foreign passport / foreign address / foreign bank" claim tells us nothing. If the purpose of these sub$200 donations was to hide below the radar, as is claimed in the wiretaps and the VF article, then of course they wouldn't use a foreign bank or foreign address as the vehicle.

CREW's initial filing specifically asked about 'foreign names' and 'foreign nationals' - but the complaint was framed in such a way that it didn't capture many of the more nefarious tricky financing schemes - such as chanelling the money in cash contributions, or using fake names and addresses, or using Abramoff-type vehicles etc.

We need to get a new FOIA request filed with FEC, the FBI & DOJ which is written such that the answer we receive is actually responsive to the claims in Vanity Fair. I'll contact POGO again.

Based on my analysis it seems most improbable that 70% of funds came from an "annual events" in any year unless she is saying that there are many annual events throught the year. I doubt that the treasurer is lying about any of the specific claims that she makes in the affadavit. see update below.

Along the same lines, is it standard practice that the assistant treasurer would respond to a complaint of this nature? Or did they nominate her for the job so that she could correctly claim that the statement was true 'to her knowledge'?

One other point to consider, Hastert's lawyer knew that this response was imminent when he wrote the letter to VF - I don't know what it means, if anything

update: the amazing miguel in the comments notes that:
"The report does not quote the assistant treasurer as saying "70% of funds", it says "70% of contributions". In other words, 70% of the contributors were at these annual events. But 70% of contributers contributing an average of..let's say $25 per person..is less then the 30% of contributors who contribute $199/person."
(NB - on revision of the original letter, I've just noticed that it actually says "70% of THE contributions")

I'm *kicking* myself TWICE. once for making the transcription error, and twice for falling for it. Miguel is correct - the way Hastert framed the sentence could mean either a) 'funds' (aka 'gross contributions') or b) 'contributors'. Most probably the latter.

The question then becomes whether the language was intended to be misleading in the context of CREW's filing (even while being technically correct). If Hastert's claim doesn't speak to the heart of the issue, then why would they include it as evidence against that claim?

Here is the language:
"70% of the contributions came from annual low-ticket-price (between $25 and $150) events"
(FWIW: also, note that FEC is paraphrasing, rather than actually quoting directly from the affadavit.)

For want of a better starting point, let's presume the 80/20 rule which would give us an average of $50 for each of the contributors at these events. I'm not sure how much further we should extrapolate the numbers... for now. But let me just state, for the record, that if they made this claim (out of the blue) to 'prove' the point, and if it doesn't actually lend much credence to their case, then it would appear that they are trying to bamboozle.
(see here for some speculation about how we might ascertain the missing numbers)

(Cross-posted at wotisitgood4)


At 12:30 AM, Blogger Miguel said...

The report does not quote the assistant treasurer as saying "70% of funds", it says "70% of contributions". In other words, 70% of the contributors were at these annual events. But 70% of contributers contributing an average of..let's say $25 per person..is less then the 30% of contributors who contribute $199/person.

At 12:37 AM, Blogger Miguel said...

The letter to CREW from the FEC says documents related to the case will be placed in the public record within 30 days. Should we wait for the 30 days to pass before filing the FOIA request? Just a thought...


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