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A First Test for BCRA Penalties

An indictment was handed down last week in a case that could send an individual to jail for the first time under the stepped-up penalties for violations under the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

Tom Noe, a “Pioneer” for President Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, was charged last week with illegally funneling $45,400 to Bush’s re-election campaign by using two dozen people as “conduits” for illegal contributions.

Federal law has long outlawed the making of campaign contributions in another’s name. But the penalties for such acts were stiffened considerably with the enactment of BCRA three years ago. The possible jail time prosecutors could seek for such offenses was more than doubled and the fines were more than tripled. Noe could now face as many as five years for each of the three counts in the indictment and nearly $1 million in fines.

“This case represents one of the first and most important examples of this new enforcement posture under the new law and is one of the most blatant and excessive criminal campaign finance schemes we have encountered,” said Noel Hillman, chief of the Justice Department’s public integrity section.

The stepped-up penalties for violations of the anti-conduit sections of campaign finance law came largely at the behest of Republicans who were outraged over how such contribution schemes benefited the re-election campaign of then-President Bill Clinton.

Although news of the indictment was overshadowed Friday by the indictment and resignation of Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the case has already shaken the Ohio Republican Party, and a handful of local officials testified before the grand jury.

Noe was the only person named in the indictment, but the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio indicated that 24 other people were involved, including two “super-conduits.” The latter individuals allegedly received $14,300 and $6,000 respectively from Noe and then further divided the money among other attendants at a $2,000-a-plate fundraiser in Columbus, Ohio, two years ago.

The violations allegedly began in October 2003, when Noe allegedly fulfilled his pledge to raise $50,000 for the dinner by recruiting and providing money to friends and associates who made campaign contributions in their own names. The indictment also alleges that Noe cut several checks in amounts just under the maximum allowable per-person contribution of $2,000 so as to avoid suspicion.

Noe is charged with making contributions in the names of others, in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act’s anti-conduit provision. The indictment charges that Noe also conspired to make contributions in the names of others, to cause the submission of false statements to the Federal Election Commission, and to defraud the United States.

This may not be the only felony Noe is charged with, however, as he also is under investigation by federal and state authorities in Ohio. Ohio officials claim that Noe stole millions of dollars from two funds he operated for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation beginning in 1998.

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