Conservative commentator and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza pleaded guilty Tuesday to using “straw donors” in 2012 to channel more money than the law allows to New York Republican candidate Wendy Long, an old friend from college who was running for the US Senate.
Appearing in federal court in Manhattan, Mr. D’Souza, known for his controversial film “2016 Obama’s America,” admitted that he had two close associates contribute $10,000 each to Long’s campaign with the understanding that he would pay them back, according to the Associated Press.
“I did reimburse them,” D’Souza told US District Judge Richard M. Berman. “I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids. I deeply regret my conduct.”
It’s possible D’Souza will be jailed as part of his sentence. The plea agreement he signed calls for him to refrain from challenging any sentence up to 16 months.
His attorney, Benjamin Brafman, said in a statement that he hoped the presiding judge “will recognize Mr. D’Souza to be a fundamentally honorable man who should not be imprisoned for what was an isolated instance of wrongdoing in an otherwise productive life.”
Sentencing was set for September 23.
D’Souza worked as a White House policy adviser under President Reagan. In 2012 he co-directed and wrote “2016 Obama’s America” based on his own previous writings. The film argued that President Obama wants to reduce the world role of the United States while advancing the causes of nations held back by perceived US colonialism or military domination.
Democrats thought the film a paranoid fantasy, while many conservatives praised what they saw as its insights about Obama’s roots. Many on the right thus wondered whether D’Souza was being prosecuted due to his partisan beliefs.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, along with several other Republican lawmakers, sent FBI Director James Comey a letter in February seeking information about the assertion of the Justice Department that the case came from a routine FBI review of Federal Election Commission documents, according to an account in Politico.
But as the facts of the case emerged a different reaction occurred on both sides of the political aisle: What was D’Souza thinking?
He appeared to have blatantly enlisted straw donors, one of whom was a then-married woman who was also D’Souza’s girlfriend, to channel extra dollars to Long’s campaign. It is not as if the cash made a difference: Long was running against incumbent Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) in New York, a liberal-leaning state. Senator Gillibrand won the election with 72 percent of the vote.
Long herself was prepared to testify against D’Souza in court.
It is not as if the modern campaign finance regime lacks legal ways to channel bucks to candidates. D’Souza apparently did not want to use those routes.
“Why would D’Souza have tried something as ham-handed as straw donors? If he was intent on wasting tens of thousands of dollars on a doomed Republican campaign in deep-blue New York, he could have just started a PAC and been perfectly safe. What a weird case,” writes the conservative Allahpundit on Hot Air.
That’s a chain of argument some liberals would agree with. Long had absolutely no chance against Gillibrand, writes David Nir, political director at Daily Kos.
“And in this day and age, if you want to circumvent campaign finance limits, that’s why the Supreme Court invented Citizens United, so this just makes D’Souza even dumber,” writes Nir.