Don’t Commit a Campaign Crime
Last Friday, a California man named Gladwin Gill admitted to making nearly $67,000 in illegal contributions to several political campaigns from 2003 to 2005, including the elections of the U.S. President, two U.S. Senators, and a U.S. Representative.
Now, following an investigation by our Los Angeles office, he faces up to five years in jail and a potential fine of up to $670,000.
Gill’s crime involved what’s called “conduit contributions.” And with the 2008 election season already heating up, it’s something you should be aware of so that you don’t fall prey to this scheme either at home or at the office.
Here’s how a “conduit contribution” works. Person A wants to give a lot of money to Candidate X. But federal law puts a ceiling on how much one person can contribute to a candidate. To get around the law, Person A goes to Friend B or Employee C or Associate D and says, “Hey, if you give me the money for Candidate X, I’ll pass along your check and then reimburse you out of my own pocket or from corporate funds.” The friend, employee, or associate effectively becomes a “conduit” for the real contributor, thus the name.
In Gill’s case, he solicited donations from employees at his company—and from friends and family members—naming them as the contributors and paying them from corporate funds later.
The law is clear: Under the Federal Election Campaign Act, making campaign contributions in the name of another person or otherwise concealing the true source of the funds is a felony if the contribution exceeds $2,000. In fact, both the person soliciting the contribution and the person who agrees to be reimbursed for it could be investigated. Even if neither is aware of the law.
Don’t let it happen to you. To avoid becoming a “conduit” for these illegal schemes, keep the following in mind:
- Don’t agree to be reimbursed for a campaign contribution by anyone else—including your employer. “Making a contribution through your employer isn’t necessarily illegal,” says Special Agent Vikki Medrano from our Los Angeles Division. “However, accepting reimbursement for your contribution is. An offer to reimburse you out of corporate or private funds should raise a red flag.”
- Be especially careful at work, where deceptive tactics may be used. For example, your employer may try to make an informal agreement to reimburse you and your fellow employees for campaign contributions, assuring you that the process is both legitimate and routine. Or your employer may take a more aggressive stance, effectively coercing you and your colleagues to make campaign contributions by telling you—either explicitly or implicitly—that there will be negative consequences if you don’t.
- Be aware of individual contribution limits. If you’re unsure of what amount you can legally contribute to a political campaign, check the Federal Election Commission’s website.
- Report any suspected election fraud to the FBI. We have dedicated election-fraud agents in each of our 56 field offices. If you suspect that your employer or any other individual or organization is collecting contributions illegally, contact your local FBI field office.
- FBI Public Corruption website