This is why we can’t have nice things.
In a Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaint filed in federal court, Jeremy Johnson is in hot water again, charged with violating federal elections law in 2012 by using illegal “straw donors” to funnel up to $170,000 candidates for the US Senate, Mark Shurtleff, Mike Lee, and Harry Reid.
According to the FEC complaint, first posted by the Salt Lake Tribune, Johnson donated the money in “the hope that doing so would help protect Johnson’s business interests from federal prosecution.” Johnson donated approximately $100,000 to Shurtleff’s US Senate campaign, about $50,000 to Lee’s campaign, and about $20,000 to Reid’s campaign.
In 2012, campaign finance laws prevented individuals from donating more than $2,400 to a single candidate. In a conversation with then Assistant Attorney General John Swallow, Johnson offered to write a large check to the Shurtleff campaign. Swallow offered a way around the campaign limit, suggesting that Johnson use “straw donors” to hide the contributions.
According to the complaint “straw donors” are defined as “contributors who gave funds ostensibly in their own names to the candidates but with the understanding that Johnson would either advance them the funds or reimburse them after the contributions were made. Johnson advanced or reimbursed approximately $170,000 to the straw donors he recruited, who in turn gave funds to the Shurtleff, Lee, and Reid campaigns.”
Johnson is alleged to have arranged with straw donors, including family members, employees, friends, and business associates, as well as companies and accounts the owned to funnel donations to Shurtleff’s campaign. Johnson then reimbursed the straw donors, amounting to about $100,000 for the Republican primary. By the end of the year, though, Shurtleff had dropped out of the campaign and endorsed Lee, who had entered it. Johnson discussed with Swallow that donating to the Mike Lee for Senate campaign would further Johnson’s business interests.
According to the FEC, Swallow is alleged to have told Johnson that: “[I]t is important that we raise this money and make Mike Lee our guy. . . . [H]e is going to be choosing the next U.S. Attorney and you gotta have him in your corner and you gotta have the U.S. Attorney in your corner especially while you are processing poker in this district.”
Johnson’s pitch to straw donor’s was simple: “Hey would you donate to Mike Lee? I’ll get you the money.”
It worked. The FEC says that Johnson donated $50,000 to the Lee campaign through straw donors.
Johnson’s legal problems were not partisan, though, and so he organized and donated $20,000 through straw donors to Nevada Senator Harry Reid’s campaign, as well with the help of members of the online-poker gaming industry, including Ray Bitar, a who ran an internet-poker company called Full Tilt Poker.
In a twist, Johnson claims that the complaint is based on statements he made when he had been promised immunity by the government.
“For my cooperation, I was guaranteed immunity. In other words, the information I shared in those confidential meetings with the FBI and state agents, I was told, would not be used to hurt me in any way. For reasons yet to be explained to me, that very information is now being used against me by the Federal Election Commission,” he said in an emailed statement [to the Salt Lake Tribune]. “I am stunned. I can’t imagine anybody who wouldn’t be outraged if they were in my shoes.”
Davis County prosecutor Troy Rawlings seems to verify the story. In the Salt Lake Tribune:
“There is more truth than fiction to Jeremy Johnson’s statement,” Rawlings wrote in an email late Friday. “In exchange for his significant cooperation, he is getting screwed by the United States government. I have demanded to know why and exactly who is behind this.”
The trip down the rabbit hole continues…where will it end?
Though the recipient of about $50,000 in donations, the complaint does not allege any wrong doing on the part of Utah Senator Mike Lee in the scheme. Boyd Matheson, Lee’s chief of staff, says that no one on the campaign had any knowledge of the donations and the Lee campaign has in the past taken efforts to verify that donations were legitimate.
The FEC violation, if proven, carries civil penalties, as well as injunctive relief against future violations (which seems to beg the question: is it overkill to enjoin someone from breaking the law…again?