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Bundle of Trouble
for Edwards Donor

Federal prosecutors in Michigan have indicted Geoffrey Fieger, the man made famous for his defense of assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, for channeling $127,000 in illegal contributions into John Edwards's 2004 presidential campaign. Prosecutors said the activity was concealed from Edwards, and he has cooperated in the probe.

The 30-page indictment, which was unsealed Friday, lays out, check by check, a blueprint for how Fieger raised money and then, allegedly, reimbursed those donors with money from his law firm or with personal checks. In one instance described by the indictment, Fieger solicited donations for the Edwards campaign from two long-time friends, their spouses, and their family members. The two friends, identified only by their initials in the court papers, each produced $8,000 in checks for Edwards. Fieger than wrote each friend a check for $8,000, and had his law firm reimburse him for approximately $20,000. "The recorded reason for the check was 'repayment Edwards campaign," according to the indictment.

It is illegal for a corporation, such as a law firm, to channel money into a presidential campaign, and illegal to reimburse someone for a campaign contribution they have made. Fieger has denied the allegations and called the indictment politically motivated.

The indictment represents the latest illustration of how some big-dollar presidential donors -- known as bundlers -- are finding ways to raise huge sums for their preferred candidates, bundle them into contributions for which they receive credit. Pressure on bundlers to produce has only increased as the amount of money being dumped into presidential campaigns has skyrocketed this year. As the Post reported earlier this month, a sign of where this pressure is being applied is the rising number of contributions from secretaries, administrative assistants and executive assistants for whom a $1,000 political contribution is a major expense. At this point in the campaign four years ago, 127 donors making contributions listed one of those three occupations. In the first six months of this year the number was 526, and the average check was for nearly $800.

This is not the first time an Edwards donor has been caught up in such a scheme.

In June 2006, the Federal Election Commission announced that Tab Turner, a prominent trial lawyer, and his Little Rock law firm agreed to pay a $50,000 penalty for violating the ban on corporate contributions and contributions made in the name of another person.

The FEC also announced that Edwards for President, would pay a $9,500 penalty for accepting in-kind contributions from Turner's firm and contributions made by Turner in the name of relatives.The FEC said that in January 2003 employees of Turner's law firm worked with Edwards's staff to plan two fundraisers in Arkansas as part of their duties. Turner instructed his assistant to ask four other employees to make $2,000 contributions to the campaign (the maximum allowed by federal law) and then to reimburse them. Turner used his firm's credit card to give Edwards $2,000 and to make $2,000 donations in the name of his brother and sister-in-law, the FEC said. The agency said he also charged nearly $2,400 in hotel and rental car expenses for travel by Edwards's staff.
Edwards now circulates a three-page memo of guidelines to volunteer fundraisers, including a reminder in large print that the law "strictly prohibits reimbursement of contributions made by others."

"The 2004 Edwards for President campaign held itself to the highest standards and made every effort to fully comply with legal requirements for campaign finance, as does the current campaign," Edwards spokeswoman Colleen Murray said. "Senator Edwards expects his staff and supporters to do the same and live up to these standards."

Murray added that, "as the indictment makes clear, the 2004 Edwards for President campaign was unaware of these activities. We have and will continue to cooperate fully with the FEC and the Department of Justice. While we do not know if these charges will ultimately prove true, if he is found guilty, we will return this money in compliance with the law, FEC regulations and our own high ethical standards."

--Matthew Mosk

By Washington Post editors  |  August 27, 2007; 4:15 PM ET
 
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