A Massachusetts law firm has been accused of funneling funds to the Democrats through an massive and illegal straw-donor scheme.
From Daily Mail
A growing number of party politicians are now returning donations from Thornton Law after it was found that the firm’s partners received bonuses that matched their political donations in what may be one of the largest schemes ever revealed.
An investigation found that partners donated nearly $1.6 million to mostly Democratic committees and candidates, including Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, from 2010 through 2014.
During that same period, the lawyers received $1.4 million listed as ‘bonuses,’ including more than 280 in amounts that precisely matched their donations.
Some of them were supposedly reimbursed just 10 days after their money was sent to the party.
The small firm, which has 10 partners, reportedly also made donations to several other top Democrats including President Barack Obama, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Harry Reid, to name a few.
The donation reimbursement program was exposed by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team and the Center for Responsive Politics.
A straw donor scheme is when a donor avoids legal limits on political donations by funneling money into campaigns using other people’s names, and then reimburses donor for their donations.
In this case, the lawyers allegedly used part of the money they were handed over as partners as donations.
They were then reimbursed the funds.
A spokesman for the Thornton Law Firm said its donation reimbursement program was reviewed by outside lawyers and complied with relevant laws.
However, campaign finance experts said it raises numerous red flags because reimbursing people for their political donations is generally illegal.
‘If you give a donation and then somebody else reimburses you for that contribution, that is a clear violation of the spirit and the letter of the law at the state and federal levels,’ Scott Allen, Boston Globe’s Spotlight editor, told CBS News.
According to federal law, partnerships like Thornton Law Firm are limited to a maximum donation of $2,700 per candidate.
But the firm reportedly used its individual partners as straw donors, which allowed it to donate money to campaigns above the legal limit.
‘Straw donor reimbursement systems are something both the FEC and the Department of Justice take very seriously, and people have gone to jail for this,’ Center for Responsive Politics editorial director Viveca Novak told CBS News.
A Thornton spokesman claimed the bonuses are legal because the partners paid them with their own money, coming out of each of their stake in the firm.
‘It was a voluntary program which only involved equity partners and their own personal after-tax money to make donations,’ the spokesman told CBS News in a statement.
Thornton Law Firm’s attorney, Brian Kelly, told the Globe that ‘while we see no need to do so, if individual politicians want to return donations, that certainly is up to them.’
On Monday, Clinton was one of several Democrats to vow that she would return thousands of dollars in donations from the firm, which is reportedly one of the country’s largest political donors.
Instead of giving the money back to the firm, she will return the donations she has received to the US Treasury, a Clinton campaign official told The Boston Globe.
While it is not clear how much money she will be returning, Center for Responsive Politics show she received at least $20,000 from lawyers at the firm and their spouses during her presidential campaign.
Following the same move, Jason Kander’s Missouri Senate campaign said Monday that it sent a $25,000 check to the U.S. Treasury after learning the firm might have violated federal election law with its donation reimbursement program.
Kander, who is Missouri’s secretary of state, became aware of the situation on Sunday and immediately gave the money to the Treasury, his campaign spokesman Chris Hayden said.
‘We thought it was appropriate to give the money to taxpayers rather than return it to the firm,’ Hayden said in an email.
Democratic New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan has said she is returning $51,000 in donations, including $13,000 to Hassan’s gubernatorial campaign two years ago and $38,000 to support her current bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
‘We had no idea about the practices inside this firm, and we assume that as the Globe reported, none of the other Republican or Democratic candidates who received contributions knew either,’ Hassan campaign spokesman Aaron Jacobs said.
‘We will be returning the contributions from this firm.’
On Sunday, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold’s campaign said he returned a $45,000 donation.
Feingold is running against Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, whose campaign said Feingold was happy to take the contributions until he was caught.
It was reported on Monday that Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch was returning $37,900 in donations from the firm.
Welch is seeking re-election as a Democrat and as a Republican, and faces a third-party challenger.
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