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Kids as Donors Raise Few Formal Complaints

While the FEC and federal prosecutors have been aggressive pursuing corporate executives who reimburse employees for contributions, there have been comparatively few cases brought against parents who pass money through their children.

Both are methods that bundlers for presidential candidates have used to try and pile up the amounts that donors can route into campaign accounts. In fact, a closer look at donations from children in today's Post suggests that the number of children writing big checks to candidates is on the rise.

And yet, the pint-sized donors are generally being left alone, even though "there's really no difference between the two," said Massie Ritsch, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

The FEC did bring a case in 2002 against a man whose two children, ages four and six, donated the maximum to a candidate for congress from Kentucky that was resolved with the man paying a $2,000 fine. When the FEC updated its rules three years later, the commissioners concluded that the best approach would be to prioritize cases based on the age of the children involved.

"The younger the minor, the closer the commission will scrutinize the contribution to determine whether the minor knowingly decided" to contribute, the commission's rulemaking said.

Ritsch agrees that the commission may find it difficult to assess which child contributions are legitimate. For instance, there are times parents may wish to take their children to a fundraising event or a political rally, and the child will have to buy a ticket.

Because the FEC does not ask donors to provide their age when making a contribution, it's almost impossible to know whether the donation is appropriate.

Paul Singer, a New York financier, is one of Republican Rudolph Giuliani's most prolific bundlers and now serves as a campaign adviser. Giuliani has received $2,300 contributions from Singer's brother, wife and each of the couple's three children -- the youngest of whom is in high school -- and from Singer's business partner Jay Newman, and his two children, federal election records show.

Yet a spokesman for Singer declined to disclose the ages of the donors, who are listed as "students" on federal campaign filings, and would not respond when asked whether Singer asked if the children were donating of their own accord.

It's impossible to know, Ritsch said of such cases. "But usually, we know there is something else going on here -- that the parents are using their children to expand their influence."

--Matthew Mosk

By Washington Post editors  |  October 24, 2007; 10:40 AM ET
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