Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Geoffrey Feiger Acquitted of Campaign Finance Violations

The ABA Journal reports that Michigan trial attorney Geoffry Fieger was acquitted of charges that he violated campaign finance laws by reimbursing employees for making political contributions.
The straw-donor law invoked against Fieger has been around since 1972, though Congress upped the ante and made it a felony as part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, known as the McCain-Feingold Act. In all these years there has been but one jury verdict concerning the law, before it was a felony, and it was for acquittal. (There have been several plea agreements in recent years.)

Thus no court has crafted an opinion concerning the law itself, according to some of the few experts in this narrow slice of election law.

Spence told the jury that the government tried to use snippets of law to go after Fieger, a prominent plaintiffs lawyer and former Democratic candidate for governor in Michigan, for political purposes. The campaign finance law (2 U.S.C. § 441f) says:

"No person shall make a contribution in the name of another person or knowingly permit his name to be used to effect such a contribution, and no person shall knowingly accept a contribution made by one person in the name of another person."

The defense argued that the law, as worded, does not prohibit reimbursing people who make contributions.

The government’s case was hurt repeatedly during its presentation of testimony and evidence when several witnesses in succession, all of whom were granted immunity for their testimony, helped more than hurt Fieger and Johnson.

For example, Jeffrey Danzig, a lawyer in Fieger’s firm, testified that he previously worked for 18 years in another law firm that reimbursed him for making political contributions, the Detroit Free Press reported last month.
So one has to wonder if this is interpreted as legal (and clearly a jury didn't find Feiger guilty of willfully violating the law, how much of this practice will go on.

At the very least, I think Congress is going to have to strengthen this aspect of the law. Giving in the name of another is actually one of the best rules around. However, technically, as Feiger argued, he didn't give in teh name of another, he just reimbursed another for giving.

I know, it seems like an overly fine distinction, but it is one that was made and apparently carried the day.

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