Tags: dead | contributions

Politicians Get Money From Beyond the Grave

Monday, 17 Dec 2007 08:38 PM

By Clayton B. Reid

Dead people can't cast votes -- well, they're not supposed to -- but they are donating many thousands of dollars every year to political campaigns. In some cases, the donations may be illegal.

The dearly departed have donated over $540,000 to political causes over the past eight years, according to a Congressional Quarterly MoneyLine report.

"This is living beyond the grave, or at least letting your wallet live beyond the grave," Kent Cooper, a former FEC official and co-owner of CapitalHillAccess.com, tells Newsmax. "Maybe the person had been a regular donor over the years, and this is the way he wanted to be remembered."

The money comes in the form of bequests, and is often distributed by executors who are trying to comply with the last wishes of deceased persons, Cooper says.

By far the largest beneficiary of dead-person donations has been the Democratic National Committee, which has pulled in $224,516 since 1999, according to the CQ MoneyLine report.

State Democratic committees in Delaware, Colorado, and North Carolina pulled in $5,000 each, while Democratic-leaning organizations like the National Committee for an Effective Congress, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and the Council for a Livable World also received gifts.

Those Democrats who received donations from the beyond include Sens. Diane Feinstein and John Kerry, and representatives Nita Lowey, John Barrow, and Rep. Bob Filner.

It may seem fitting that deceased donors have bequeathed a mere $93,143 to the Republican National Committee, given that GOP fundraising efforts have been moribund anyway this political season.

Republican Sens. Lincoln Chafee, Ted Stevens, and Saxby Chambliss, and presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani also received donations.

In all, MoneyLine turned up over 160 people who have passed away who are still giving.

Bob Biersack, Federal Election Commission spokesman, tells USA Today that the donations to the DNC and RNC are legal, as long as they reflect the wishes of the late donor and don’t exceed federal contribution limits.

The donations to individual candidates may be illegal, however.

Federal election law expert John Armor tells Newsmax that a little “blissful ignorance” goes a long way when candidates are receiving donations from beyond the grave.

“This doesn’t surprise me in the least,” he says. “Nobody checks to find out if the donors are living.

Armor, who is himself a GOP congressional candidate running in North Carolina's 11th District, says that the law fails to provide a mechanism to check whether a donor is still living.

“The law requires candidates to say if they got $500 from John Smith and give an address for Smith, but nobody goes and checks whether Smith is still alive.”

A FEC election-law pamphlet explains, “No one may make a contribution in another person’s name.”

“Obviously, if a contributor is dead, someone is making a contribution in their name,” Armor tells Newsmax.

“Hiding real donors is a felony, and running money through the hands of someone who is not the real contributor is a felony, and for a candidate to accept that money is a felony," he says.

The catch: You’d have to prove the candidate knew that the contributor was dead in order for taking the money to constitute a crime.

“It’s called ‘plausible deniability,’ Armor says. “It has to be a living person who is an American citizen or corporation entitled to make the gift, but for the receiver to get off the hook, they can say ‘We didn’t know the contribution was made by somebody other than the dead guy,’ and they’re fine. The law is so frequently violated it is a joke.”

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