May 20 (Bloomberg) -- Conservative political commentator and author Dinesh D’Souza, who made the film “2016: Obama’s America,” pleaded guilty to violating U.S. campaign finance law by using straw donors to exceed federal limits.
D’Souza’s guilty plea came on the day he was to begin trial on felony charges that he illegally reimbursed two close associates for contributing a total of $20,000 in 2012 to U.S. Senate candidate Wendy Long, a New York Republican. Federal law limits campaign contributions to $5,000 per individual in an election cycle.
D’Souza, of San Diego, had claimed that he was singled out for prosecution because of his views opposing President Barack Obama. The Federal Election Commission usually files civil claims in cases such as his, D’Souza said. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called the claim of selective prosecution baseless.
“We will investigate and prosecute violations of federal law, particularly those that undermine the integrity of the democratic electoral process, without regard to the defendant’s political persuasion or party affiliation,” Bharara said in a statement. “That is what we did in this case and what we will continue to do.”
D’Souza’s lawyers and the government agreed in a hearing today in Manhattan before U.S. District Judge Richard Berman that sentencing guidelines, which aren’t binding, call for him to get as long as 16 months in prison. Berman allowed D’Souza to remain free on bail before sentencing, scheduled for Sept. 23.
“Given the technical nature of the charge, there was no viable defense,” D’Souza’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said in a statement after today’s hearing. He said he hoped the judge would recognize “Mr. D’Souza to be a fundamentally honorable man who should not be imprisoned for what was an isolated instance of wrongdoing in an otherwise productive and responsible life.”
The best-selling writer was also charged with causing Long’s organizers to file inaccurate campaign-finance reports. Long, a friend who attended Dartmouth College with D’Souza, lost the race to Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.
Berman last week rejected an attempt by D’Souza to have the charges dismissed.
“I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids,” D’Souza said at today’s hearing. “I deeply regret my conduct.”
Long and the alleged straw donors likely would’ve been called to testify for the government at trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Cohen told Berman today.
“I am heartbroken about this,” Long said in a statement today. “Dinesh has always been completely generous with everyone he meets. There was never a time when he was trying to do anything but help me personally, support my U.S. Senate campaign, and advance the ideals of freedom that we share.”
Long said the statute used to prosecute D’Souza is unconstitutional and called the case “a shameful government overreach.” She said she had been subpoenaed by prosecutors and wouldn’t have willingly testified against D’Souza.
A 1983 graduate of Dartmouth, D’Souza served as a policy analyst for the late President Ronald Reagan and as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He was president of The King’s College in New York City from 2010 to 2012, according to his website.
The case is U.S. v. D’Souza, 14-cr-00034, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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