Autumn is fast approaching and as the outside temperatures drop, the countryside season is heating up. Political direct mail is coming out in the thousands, road signs are growing, and political news is dominating the headlines. We just had a primary in several cities earlier this week.
In trying to stay on top of political events, I recently observed a multitude of articles and headlines citing violations of the Federal Election Campaigns Act and realized that I know very little about the law.
Most of the headlines citing FECA began around the beginning of September, when Igor Furman, a Belarusian businessman, US citizen and close associate of Rudy Guiliani, pleaded guilty to violating FECA.
Before reading the recent events surrounding Furman, I knew that the FECA is a federal law that basically regulates the collection and spending of money in US elections. However, I have just learned that although the FECA (aka Title 52 of Section 301) of the US Code contains several chapters, the “meat” of the law is found in two chapters – 30121 and 30122.
Section 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 legally admitted for permanent residence cannot provide anything of value or make an express promise or implied to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a federal, state or local election. Moreover, under this same chapter, it is illegal for a person to solicit, accept or receive a contribution or a donation from a non-national.
Section 30122 prohibits the giving of money or donation, all or part of which has been provided to the contributor by another person (i.e. the actual contributor) without disclosing the source of the money or the thing of value to the beneficiary candidate or to the committee at the time of the contribution. Better said, this section of the chapter prohibits an individual from giving money to a middle man or straw man and asking that middleman to contribute funds to a political campaign.
In the original indictment, Furman, along with Ukrainian-born businessmen Lev Parnas and Andrey Kukushkin, were charged with violating Chapters 30121 and 30122. Specifically, the indictment stated that Furman and Parnas had created a shell company, Global Energy Producers, to hide contributions and gave $ 325,000 to America First Action, the political action super committee backing former President Donald Trump who was running at the time for his re-election.
On September 10, Furman admitted one count of soliciting campaign contributions from a foreign national – a violation of FECA Chapter 30121. During his plea hearing, Furman specifically admitted to soliciting campaign donations of more than $ 25,000 from a foreign national whose identity has not yet been released to the public. Additionally, Furman admitted to using a shell company to help illegally funnel foreign donations to U.S. political candidates in an attempt to buy influence. As a result of his actions, Furman could spend nearly four years in prison.
Furman’s co-defendants Parnas and Kukushkin have yet to reach a plea deal and their cases are set to go to trial. It will be interesting to see if the FECA is changed after Parnas and Kukushkin’s trial and Furman’s conviction.
Andrew Zashin writes on law for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is co-manager of Zashin & Rich, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.