disclose, denny

Sunday, March 26, 2006

hastert's response to CREW

As I mentioned the other day, FEC has released the documents from Hastert in response to the CREW complaint.

The interesting thing is that the lawyers rant and rave, knock down straw men, conflate issues, introduce items that are in the Vanity Fair article that weren't in CREW's complaint - but they don't really address the core issue - that they received a large number of donations that were just below $200 so as to avoid the reporting requirements.

Here are some highlights:
The allegations against the Respondents contained in the Complaint are groundless and merely based on the unsubstantiated and false musings of a politically-motivated article written to sell magazines through repetition of unsubstantiated and false innuendo against House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Speaker Hastert). As the claims of the Complaint have absolutely no basis in fact, the Commission need not give this matter further investigation or action. Rather, the Complaint should be dismissed immediately.
From the utter and complete lack of evidence proffered in support of the allegations against the Respondents, one can only conclude that CREW filed this action against the Respondents - and loudly trumpeted its having done so in the media - as a political ploy to harm the image of Speaker Hastert rather than to lodge a legitimate complaint.
Hastert was given many opportunities to co-operate with the VF article and consistently refused. CREW clearly doesn't purport to have any evidence to proffer, and that's why they called for an investigation. Hastert has the only real evidence, and he refuses to disclose it. The FBI has the evidence in the wiretaps - will Hastert call for that to be released to exonerate himself?

At its core, the Complaint claims that the Respondents may have accepted contributions from foreign nationals in violation of federal campaign finance laws.
Specifically, the Complaint alleges that an article in the September 2005 issue of Vanity Fair relays that unnamed sources remember that a discharged FBI translator reviewed some wiretaps wherein certain Turkish targets of an FBI bribery investigation claim that they have ‘‘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.”


Even a cursory review of the Complaint reveals that CREW seeks to have the Commission embark on nothing more than a “fishing expedition” to uncover wrongdoing on the part of Speaker Hastert and his campaign committee. The sole “evidence” the Complaint manages to muster against the Respondents relates to completely unsubstantiated claims in the Vanity Fair article along with publicly available information about HFC’s un-itemized contributions. However, even accepting, arguendo, that foreign nationals attempted to bribe Speaker Hastert as described in the Vanity Fair article, the Complaint fails to assert any allegations meriting further inquiry by the Commission because CREW presents no evidence that HFC accepted these phantom contributions.


The Complaint is utterly unable to allege facts or data that even potentially give rise to a reasonable basis for inquiry into whether the Respondents violated the Act.
It is true that the CREW complaint was poorly constructed - the real question is not whether
"the Respondents may have accepted contributions from foreign nationals in violation of federal campaign finance laws"
- the real issue in the VF article is:
"According to some of the wiretaps, the F.B.I.’s targets had arranged for tens of thousands of dollars to be paid to Hastert’s campaign funds in small checks."
The article doesn't say anything about whether the contributions were from foreign nationals, or how they were 'arranged'.

As stated above, the core allegation in the current Complaint is that the Respondents may have accepted contributions from foreign nationals in violation of federal campaign finance laws. Not only does CREW fail to provide any proof in support of that accusation, but rather, all available evidence supports the exact opposite conclusion. While perhaps unnecessary to defend against a complaint so lacking in merit on its face, the Respondents herein include with this Response the affidavit of its Assistant Treasurer, Lisa Post, to address, and refute, the baseless allegations set forth in the Complaint. Both publicly available and HFC internal documents attached to the Post affidavit and included herein, confirm that the implications of the Vanity Fair article are entirely false and that HFC did not illegally accept contributions from foreign nationals
The available evidence certainly does not support "the exact opposite conclusion" - as the article demonstrates, Hastert actually received a lot of unitemised contributions - five times more than Tom DeLay. The attachments provided by Hastert do nothing to refute the claims in VF.

Moreover, contrary to the Vanity Fair article’s statements and CREW’S innuendo, HFC actually retains information on the identity and residence of all contributors, including those contributing less than $200. Affidavit of Lisa Post, p. 1 (attached as Exhibit “1”). The data regarding these “under $200” contributions for the time period mentioned in the article, April 1996 to December 2002, confirms the identity and residence of 100% of Speaker Hastert’s unitemized contributions with NONE attributable to contributions of questionable origin or legality. (emphasis in the original)
I don't think that the article makes any such claim, and i'm not sure that CREW implied it either. Incidentally, I'm curious about the April 96 start-date - I suspect that Rose started there purely because the Q1, 96 report is missing from the official website.

Hastert/Evans then rant on about the armenian genocide issue, although that is not mentioned in the CREW complaint:
To further sensationalize its summer reading and CREW’S subsequent press statements, however, Vanity Fair includes a purported claim by an unidentified Turkish consulate senior official that “the price for Hastert to withdraw the resolution would have been at least $500,000.”

Notably, the total amount of all un-itemized contributions to HFC over the entire
six year period referenced in the Vanity Fair article did not total $500,000.
More significantly, as reflected in public filings, the un-itemized contributions received from July 1, 2000, through November 27, 2000 (the three months preceding and the month following the withdrawal of the resolution on October 19,2000), totaled a meager amount less than $36,000 and not even close to $500,000.
'Notably', they are either stupid or deliberately conflating two separate events. The article doesn't suggest that the $500k was paid in small donations to his campaign - only that 'tens of thousands' were paid in this manner. And if they are conflating intentionally, then why the smokescreen?
And again, NONE of these un-itemized contributions were of questionable legality or origin. Interestingly, less than $9,200 was donated to HFC in October 2000 (the month the resolution was withdrawn) of which only 5 contributors (Pennsylvania (l), Wisconsin (2), Michigan (l), and California (1)) were from somewhere other than Illinois.
'Interestingly', we don't care which state they were from.
Notwithstanding the above data which neuters the bribery scheme of the Vanity Fair article, even if foreign nationals had attempted to contribute to HFC in violation of federal law, HFC is well aware of, and abides by, FECA prohibitions and procedures regarding the origin of contributions.
Notwithstanding that the above data conflates two separate and distinct bribery schemes, it does absolutely nothing to neuter anything. Did FEC notice this nonsense?

As one might expect, HFC requests and maintains information on the identity and residence of its contributors and includes on its donor cards the disclaimer that “contributions from foreign nationals and corporations are prohibited.”
Eighteenth Annual Farmers’ Picnic Ticket Order Form (attached as Exhibit “6”).
I wonder when Hastert started doing this, and whether it is regular practice for congressfolk. The event mentioned was in 2005. If this is not standard practice, then I wonder if Hastert introduced it to give him cover.

The Commission should not allow the complaint process to continue to be abused in this way. The Respondents have done nothing to violate FECA. Conversely, it is quite apparent that the Respondents have taken great steps to ensure that their activities will be in compliance with Federal law. However, despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence indicating that the Respondents have, or will, violate the Act, CREW has seen fit to adopt-false allegations and unsubstantiated “evidence” as the basis of its Complaint. The Commission must dismiss the
Complaint against the Respondents and find no reason to believe that the Respondents have violated the Act or the regulations promulgated thereunder.
Moreover, as stated above, the allegations of the CREW Complaint, verified under oath as being accurate by CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan, are patently false on their face and presented solely in furtherance of a larger partisan attack. In the absence of some public rebuke of CREW, the Commission will continue to face such objectively specious complaints and will have to devote valuable investigatory resources to these matters. Respondents therefore respectfully request an Order fiom the Commission publicly admonishing CREW for such an abuse of process and the Commission’s time and obligating CREW to reimburse Respondents their attorneys fees incurred in responding
yada yada. Sloan simply pointed to the VF article and asked that the claims be investigated.

The document then provides 159 pages of spreadsheets with unitemized contributors which purports to 'prove' Hastert's innocence. It appears that there are different spreadsheets for each year - the fields are date, 'mailname', last name, first name, something called 'txtsource' , address 1, address 2, address 3, city, state, zip, and in some cases work & fax numbers. The only columns that have all the data are date, 'mailname', first name, txtsource, city and zip - the occasional phone number is included. All of the address fields are empty - and all of the other fields are empty. Notably there's no column for donation amount (nor is there a cloumn for whether the donation was cash or cheque). The 'mailname' field says something like "Mr & Mrs Joel X" where the X is redacted - so basically all we have is the first name, the date of the donation, and the city & zip - and the occasional phone number. colour me unconvinced.

Donations of more than $200 require the disclosure of the person's name - therefore I'm not sure what Hastert's logic is for redacting the last name of everyone of his donors (and i pity the poor sod who got the task of having to go through 159 pages with a thick black pen). is there an expectation of privacy? if so, why did they publish the occasional phone/fax number? why did they include many empty 'fields' such as address, but not include the 'donation size' field?

One odd thing that i noticed is that the spreadsheet is apparently 'unsorted' - by anything. I'm not suggesting that this means anything in particular - but it struck me as odd (yep - i've spent too many hours buried in spreadsheets).

(another thing that i found weird is that lots of the donors - according to the 'mailfield' - are from "Mr and Mrs X" - i've never been married but do married people really fill in their receipts as "Mr and Mrs X" ?)

As I've mentioned, at the core of Rose's suggestion is the suggestion that there were a large number of donations in some period which were close to the $200 ceiling. I suspect that those donations were in cash, rather than checks (contra Rose) - and if they were cash donations, then I suspect that the addresses on the receipts were fabricated. Hastert purports to provide 'proof' in his 159 pages of 'disclosure' but he does nothing of the sort - because both the addresses and the size of the donation are excluded from his 'proof'.

In Hastert's favor (you can't imagine how much it hurts me to say that), i previously estimated (more here) that Hastert's average contribution from his 'annual events' would be $50. As it happens, Hastert's filing enables us to look at average contributions per year. Based on rough calculations, according to Hastert's filings and some geek-work (# of pages of speadsheet, 50 entries per page), Hastert's undisclosed contributions are as follows (i'm not sure how this will format on the blog - first column is the year, second column is the average of the undisclosed contributions):

1996 - $48 (note this excludes Q1 which is missing from the official filing system)
1997 - $59
1998 - $55
1999 - $58
2000 - $61
2001- $80
2002 - $57

the 2001 number obviously stands out - although my sources tell me that the 90's are the key area of interest - so i don't quite know what to make of it.

the only thing we can be sure of at the moment, is that while Hastert pretends to have answered the claims in the VF article, he certainly hasn't.

disclose denny.


At 10:13 PM, Blogger Miguel said...

In regards to your comment, "One odd thing that i noticed is that the spreadsheet is apparently 'unsorted' - by anything. ", I have looked closely at the spreadsheet and it appears to be sorted by 'last name'. Of course, since all the last names are blacked out, it is hard to tell that. But, if you look carefully across the years, you will notice, for example, some of the same first name/city combinations appearing in approximately the same page of each year's report, which means a 'last name' sort is most likely. For example, if Ms. Identa from St. Charles gives in multiple years to Hastert, and every year she appears on the first page of the report, we can hypothesize that her surname begins with an "A".

In regards to the issue of the unitemized contributions not quite going up in the years we most expect, remember this: there were other "events" going on in Hastert's career that may have had an influence on his campaign finances. Most notably, in 1999, Hastert was plucked from obscurity to become House Speaker, so it is natural that all his campaign contributions would have increased, as he went from being "our Congressman Hastert" to "our most powerful Congressman in the House, Hastert".

So although it would strengthen the case against Hastert if we saw the unitemized contributions drop in 2000-2002, the fact that the unitemized contributions actually went up when the Turks apparently turned to more traditional bribery schemes can easily be explained by Hastert's increased visibility within his own community. In other words, it is quite possible that Hastert received a surge of legitimate, unitemized contributions after 1999 based simply on the fact that every Tom, Dick and Harry in Hastert's home district wanted to be 'seen' at one of Denny's annual fundraisers.

At 10:29 PM, Blogger Miguel said...

I hope you will allow a little educated guessing at this point as to how the alleged bribing of Dennis Hastert and other members of Congress plays into the bigger picture of the Sibel Edmonds case. I'll share with you my working hypothesis:

-In the late 1990s, Turkey was being villified in the US press and Congress for human rights violations in its war against the Kurds.
-At the same time, Perle, Feith and Grossman were engineering a strategic Turkey/Israel alliance.
-Is it possible that part of the unspoken terms of this Israel/Turkey agreement was that people like Grossman, Perle and Feith would help Turkey get around the restrictions of US arms control laws and help pilfer US military technology and secrets to the Turks...as well as to Turkey's allies in Central Asia?
-The one obstacle to all this would be the US Congress, over which Grossman, Perle and Feith had no control The Turks were told that they were on their own in that regard, and that they would have to learn how to develop a lobbying presence to counteract the Human Rights, Greek and Armenian lobbies. They would get some support from strong supporters of Israel like Robert Wexler. But they were told they needed more than the Israeli connection, because the pressure on Turkish human rights violations was great.
-So the Turkish government worked in concert with Turkish organized crime to slowly develop a presence in the US Congress. Since Turkish-Americans are a relatively small group, they would have to use good, old fashioned bribery. Their most powerful organization was based in Chicago, so what better place to start then the town where Al Capone became famous?
-Coincidentally or not, Turkey's number one critic in Congress, John Porter, sat in Hastert's neighboring district. Were the Turks trying isolate Porter? Or did they attempt to bribe him too? Porter was co-chair of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, along with Tom Lantos. It is interesting to note that Lantos is one of Turkey's biggest supporters now.
-Hastert was caught in their net, maybe just because he happened to be in Chicago, or maybe because he was a senior Republican. Regardless, I believe the Turks got "lucky" when he suddenly rose to power.
-The money used for all this lobbying power came mostly from illicit, underground activities, some of it terror-related.

That is my working hypothesis. But its just an educated guess, and is subject to criticism. I think if we can develop a coherent narrative, it will put things in greater context and help the public understand the question "Why Hastert"

My computer battery is running out so I'll post more later...


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