A former congressional campaign manager pleaded guilty in what the U.S. called the first prosecution of coordinated payments between a super action committee and a candidate's committee.
Tyler Eugene Harber, 34, of Alexandria, Virginia, admitted to one count of coordinated federal election contributions and one count of making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to federal court records in Alexandria.
The super PAC, controlled by Harber, spent $325,000 that it coordinated with a campaign committee managed by him for a challenge to the incumbent in the 11th congressional district in Virginia's Washington suburbs, according to court records.
The political funds and candidates aren't named in court papers. Other records indicate that Harber helped set up the National Republican Victory Fund super PAC and managed the campaign of Chris Perkins, the unsuccessful challenger to Democratic Representative Gerald Connolly.
Under federal election law, a super PAC can spend unlimited sums to influence an election as long as the expenditures aren't coordinated with a specific campaign.
Harber lied to FBI agents about his involvement in the campaign funds, according to a statement of facts in the case.
The Justice Department "will aggressively pursue coordination offenses at every opportunity," Leslie Caldwell, the head of the department's criminal division, said in a statement.
The coordinated spending was for anti-Connolly advertising. Harber and his family received commissions and other payments in connection with the coordinated spending, according to court papers.
The prosecution of Harber occurred as campaign finance restrictions have been loosened by a series of court decisions, led by the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizen's United ruling, which allowed unlimited corporate and union political spending.
"This is an extremely important development and sends a warning signal to all federal candidates in the 2016 elections that they can no longer ignore the nation's coordination laws with impunity," Fred Wertheimer, president of Washington-based Democracy 21, which advocates for tighter restrictions in campaign finance, said in a statement.
Paul Ryan, senior counsel for Campaign Legal Center, another Washington-based advocacy group for campaign limits, said Harber's case was the first such prosecution he was aware of by the Justice Department.
"The activity here was so egregious, this was low-hanging fruit" for prosecutors, Ryan said. "But it's a good sign they're paying attention."
Harber, who was released on a $25,000 bond, faces a maximum of 10 years in prison at his sentencing, slated for June 5.
The case is U.S. v. Harber, 14-cr-00373, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).
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