Fall is just around the corner and while the temperatures outside are dropping, campaign season is heating up. Political mailers are going out by the thousands, yard signs are sprouting up and political news is dominating the headlines. We just had a primary in several cities earlier this week.
In attempting to stay abreast of political events, I recently observed a multitude of articles and headlines citing violations of Federal Election Campaign Act and have come to realize that I know very little about the act.
The bulk of headlines citing FECA started around the beginning of September when Igor Furman, a Belarussian businessman, U.S. citizen and close associate of Rudy Guiliani pleaded guilty to violating FECA.
Prior to reading the recent events surrounding Furman, I was aware that FECA is a federal law which essentially regulates the raising and spending of money in U.S. elections. I have now, however, come to learn that while FECA (aka Title 52 of the U.S. Code Section 301) contains multiple chapters “the meat” of the act is found within two chapters – 30121 and 30122.
Chapter 30121 prohibits contributions and donations from non-citizens to politicians and political parties. In other words, an individual who is not a citizen of the United States or a national of the United States and who is not lawfully admitted for permanent residence may not provide anything of value or make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a federal, state, or local election. In addition, under this same chapter it is unlawful for a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation from a non-citizen.
Chapter 30122 bans the giving money or donating, all or part of which was provided to the contributor by another person (i.e. the true contributor) without disclosing the source of money or the thing of value to the recipient candidate or committee at the time the contribution. Better said, this section of the chapter prohibits an individual from giving money to a middle or straw man and instructing that intermediatory to contribute funds to political campaign.
In the original indictment, Furman, along with Ukrainian born businessmen Lev Parnas and Andrey Kukushkin, were accused of violating both Chapters 30121 and 30122. Specifically, the indictment stated that Furman and Parnas set up a shell company, Global Energy Producers, to hide political contributions and gave $325,000 to America First Action, the super political action committee supporting former President Donald Trump who was running for re-election at the time.
On Sept. 10, Furman admitted to one count of soliciting campaign contributions from a foreign national – a violation of Chapter 30121 of FECA. During his plea hearing, Furman specifically admitted to soliciting campaign donations in excess of $25,000 from a foreign national whose identity has yet to be disclosed to the public. Further, Furman admitted to using a shell company to assist in the illegal funneling of foreign donations to U.S. political candidates to try to buy influence. As a result of his actions, Furman could spend almost four years in prison.
Furman’s co-defendants, Parnas and Kukushkin, have yet to take a plea deal and their cases are scheduled to proceed to trial. It will be interesting to see if FECA is amended following Parnas’ and Kukushkin’s trial and Furman’s sentencing.
Andrew Zashin writes about law for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is a co-managing partner with Zashin & Rich, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.