Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Republican Sen. Dean Heller, who is also from Nevada, have said they will donate to charity thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from a real estate developer in their state.
The lawmakers decided to shed money from Harvey Whittemore, the attorney and gaming lobbyist turned developer, after a newspaper reported that federal authorities are looking into political donations by Whittemore, his family and friends.
“Senator Reid has already donated the contributions made by Mr. Whittemore and his spouse to charity,” Reid’s office said in a statement. “The office will continue to review other contributions associated with Mr. Whittemore, and treat them appropriately.”
The Las Vegas Review Journal reported this week that a federal grand jury has issued subpoenas seeking documents about campaign contributions and quoted sources saying officials are looking into whether Whittemore reimbursed family and employees for their donations to Reid’s campaign, which would violate election law.
Whittemore and his attorney did not return phone calls from The Washington Post seeking a response. The Las Vegas paper quoted Elizabeth Trosper, a spokeswoman for the law firm representing Whittemore, saying, “Understandably, based on the reckless accusations” in a civil lawsuit filed against Whittemore by his business partners, “law enforcement is requesting information from knowledgeable parties.”
Records show that on March 31, 2007, Reid’s Senate campaign received more than $100,000 from donors with ties to Whittemore, including his family members and employees.
Whittemore and Reid have a friendship going back decades, and two of Reid’s sons have worked for Whittemore. Reid helped Whittemore by backing a 2002 bill that removed a federal right of way from land that Whittemore planned to use for a housing development outside Las Vegas.
A Reid spokeswoman declined to comment on Reid’s support for the bill or on donations from Whittemore’s family and employees.
A spokesman for Heller said his campaign would be donating $27,600 in contributions from Whittemore and his family to a charity.
The campaign of Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), who is seeking Heller’s Senate seat this year, is reviewing contributions from Whittemore and his family and “will be disposing of them in the appropriate manner,” a spokesman said.
A watchdog group on Wednesday asked the Justice Department to investigate two “super PACs” that are helping President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney, alleging that the groups are “engaged in illegal activities” by coordinating too closely with the presidential campaigns.
The complaint from Democracy 21, headed by longtime campaign finance reform activist Fred Wertheimer, follows announcements from the Obama and Romney campaigns that they would encourage surrogates to appear at super PAC fundraising events.
Super PACs, a recently created type of political group that can raise and spend unlimited funds, have already had an enormous impact on the Republican primary races by spending more than the candidates in some states.
The groups are supposed to be independent from candidates and are prohibited from coordinating directly with campaigns on issues such as where and when to run advertisements. But the two campaigns, citing rulings from the Federal Election Commission, have said they believe they are legally allowed to take part in fundraisers held by super PACs and to encourage support for the groups in other ways.
In his letter to the Justice Department, Wertheimer disagrees and argues that both the Obama and Romney camps are overstepping the bounds of what they are allowed to do “in a flagrant and willful fashion.”
Charlie Spies, treasurer for Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC, said in a statement that “Wertheimer has a long history of making hyperbolic accusations to gain publicity for himself and fundraise for his lobbying organization.”
Bill Burton, a spokesman for Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama super PAC, said: “We operate in full compliance of the rules and laws that govern campaign finance.”
The Obama and Romney campaigns declined comment. The Justice Department also declined comment.