A federal judge dismissed two of three campaign finance violation charges Monday against a prominent Los Angeles attorney for allegedly funneling $26,000 to Sen. John Edwards’ 2004 presidential campaign through employees of his law firm.
Pierce O’Donnell had been indicted for allegedly conspiring to have 13 of his employees give the campaign the maximum allowable $2,000 each and then reimbursing them. The judge held that under some circumstances such “conduit contributions” are permissible according to the statute under which O’Donnell was charged.
In the ruling by U.S. District Judge S. James Otero, the third count of the indictment that accused O’Donnell of causing the campaign to make false statements to the Federal Elections Commission by concealing the true nature of the contributions, was allowed to stand. O’Donnell could stand trial on that count. But one of O’Donnell’s attorneys, George Terwilliger of Washington, D.C., said he hoped the third count would ultimately be dismissed.
In other words, the judge gutted a major provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act, which bans making “contributions in the name of another.” Now apparently you can make exactly these sorts of contributions, you just can’t the give straw donors the money in advance. If the decision holds up on appeal, and Congress does not rewrite the relevant section of the law, expect rich donors to flood the 2010 mid-term elections with even more money than usual.