In case you're wondering about those phony-award campaign contributions that Tom DeLay solicited from foreign nationals (see here, here, and here for the background), the answer is Yes, someone did notice that such things are illegal. Here's the story, sent to me by AJ Garcia from Roll Call.
NRCC Takes Barred Funds
November 24, 2003
By Amy Keller, Roll Call Staff
Officials at the National Republican Congressional Committee said they plan to immediately refund an illegal foreign contribution received through a fundraising telemarketing program featuring House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).
Robin Raina, a 37-year-old native of India who moved to Georgia in 1997, recently contributed $300 to the NRCC after receiving a telephone call inviting him to join the NRCC’s Business Advisory Council. As part of the fundraising push, potential donors are also told they have been selected by DeLay to receive a National Leadership Award — an honor that Raina, president and CEO of a U.S.-based company ebix, felt inclined to share with numerous news outlets in his native country in a company press release.
“Yet another Indian has made a mark in the U.S. with his appointment as honorary chairman of the Business Advisory Council in recognition of his contribution to the Republican party,” MSN India reported on Nov. 19. “A long-time supporter of Republican ideals, Raina will be a key member of the council.”
Apparently lost on Raina was the fact that it is unlawful for a foreign national to make a contribution, and also for a person to solicit, accept or receive a contribution from a foreign national.
For violations that aren’t “knowing and willful,” the statute provides for a civil penalty which does not exceed the greater of $5,000 or an amount equal to any contribution or expenditure involved in such violation if the FEC and the respondent can’t agree on a conciliation agreement.
NRCC spokesman Carl Forti said the committee had every intention of returning the money. “He did give $300 via credit card and obviously now that we’re aware of the problem the money will be refunded,” Forti said Friday afternoon in response to an inquiry about the contribution.
Raina isn’t the only Indian citizen residing in the United States who has been hit up for money lately by the NRCC. Amit Pradhan said he has been besieged with “lots of requests for contributions for different funds” but chose not to give a donation when he was offered the same award that Raina received.“The award wasn’t connected to making a contribution,” Pradhan said. “It was an option. They do use it as a vehicle for fundraising and I’m sure that there are a lot of people who get the award and do contribute ... I don’t believe it’s compulsory and I didn’t contribute.”
But Pradhan, the founder and president of Iopsis Software Inc., was equally eager to share his good fortune with the folks back in India. Last Wednesday, the Times of India published an article explaining that Pradhan will be assisted by his elder brother Rajeesh “in leading a 10-member team in the U.S.” that will interact with U.S. Congressmen and “play a crucial role in the committee’s efforts to involve top business people in the process of government reform.”
“What is most surprising about Amit’s selection is, that neither he, nor his brother, is a green card holder or an American citizen,” the story stated. “While Amit has been in the US for the last three years on an L1 visa ... his brother is on a regular H1 visa.”
The NRCC’s National Leadership Award fundraising scheme has received considerable attention from the press, with NBC’s Lisa Myers recently noting that awardees “have included a convicted sex offender and a maker of drug paraphernalia, both later rescinded.” But Forti said the committee is satisfied with the program. “The bottom line is that there are thousands of happy members of the Business Advisory Council and the small fraction of people we’ve had to give refunds to doesn’t mean the program’s not a success. In reality, I can only think of between five and 10 instances when this has been a problem.”