Conservative author Dinesh D’Souza was indicted Thursday on federal charges of violating campaign finance laws by using straw donors to funnel money to a U.S. Senate candidate.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced the grand jury charges in a statement Thursday. D’Souza is expected to be arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
D’Souza, who has written over a dozen books imparting his provocative views on religion and politics, could not be reached for comment Thursday evening. But his attorney, Benjamin Brafman, released a statement to reporters saying that D’Souza’s efforts to help a friend running for the Senate in 2012 was “at most” an “act of misguided friendship.”
“Mr. D’Souza did not act with any corrupt or criminal intent whatsoever,” Brafman said in the statement. “He and the candidate have been friends since their college days, and “at worst, this was an act of misguided friendship by D’Souza. . .It is important to note that the indictment does not allege a corrupt relationship between Mr. D’Souza and the candidate.”
The indictment did not name the Senate candidate in the case. But it appears to be Wendy Long (R), who lost overwhelmingly in 2012 to incumbent Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat. Long raised less than $1 million for her long-shot campaign.
D’Souza, whose books include “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” went to Dartmouth College with Long and his name was listed on an invitation as co-hosting a fundraiser for Long during the campaign. Long, a former clerk to Supremc Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and D’Souza worked together on the Dartmouth Review, famous for its outspoken take on social and political topics.
The indictment was the result of a routine review by the FBI of campaign filings with the FEC by various candidates after the 2012 election, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
“This office and the FBI take a zero tolerance approach to corruption of the electoral process,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. “If, as alleged, the defendant directed others to make contributions to a Senate campaign and reimbursed them, that is a serious violation of federal campaign finance laws.”
D’Souza, who now lives in San Diego, has long been a lightning rod for controversy. In his 2010 book on Obama, he theorizes that Obama is motivated largely by the “inherited rage” of his absent Kenyan father.
The criminal charges, filed in U.S. District Court, allege that D’Souza in 2012 illegally reimbursed associates whom he asked to make donations valued at $20,000 to an unnamed Senate campaign. At the time, primary and general election campaign contributions to federal candidates were limited to $2,500 each from any individual to any single candidate.
Those limits on candidate donations have been dramatically surpassed by the increasingly common practice of using nonprofit groups as a vehicle to make unlimited contributions to independent political committees. Recent court decisions have sanctioned and encouraged large-dollar donations from individuals, unions and corporations, provided the funds are spent independently of a candidate’s official campaign.
According to the indictment, D’Souza’s straw donor scheme caused the campaign committee to falsely report to the FEC the sources of its contributions.
D’Souza was charged Thursday with one count of making illegal campaign contributions, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison. He also is charged with one count of causing false statements to be made to the FEC, which carries a maximum of five years in prison.
Straw-donor cases have been brought against prominnent individuals from time to time. For example, in 2011, a prominent Los Angeles attorney, Pierce O’Donnell, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor chargest of making $20,000 in donations to the presidential campaign of former Sen. John Edwards and reimbursing straw donors.