Al Sharpton and his group, the National Action Network (NAN), have been fined $285,000 by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for violating a host of election laws during Sharpton’s 2004 presidential campaign during which he received 2% of the Democratic primary vote.
NLPC, which filed Complaints against Sharpton on February 2, 2004 and February 6, 2004, was notified of the FEC action last week and made it public today. As NLPC Chairman Ken Boehm was quoted in the New York Post today:
We are pleased that the FEC has ruled on our Complaint and found that Sharpton ran an “off the books’ presidential campaign.
Previously, the FEC ordered Sharpton to return $100,000 in taxpayer matching funds, and denied him an additional $79,000 for which he qualified, for the 2004 campaign.
Also previously, Sharpton was fined $5,500 for late filing of disclosure documents reports as a result of a separate Complaint filed by NLPC on April 18, 2003.
The February 2, 2004 Complaint cited information that Sharpton may have visited over 100 cities related to his presidential campaign in 2002 and 2003. This extensive political travel was not reflected anywhere in Sharpton’s FEC filings. NLPC alleged that NAN might have underwritten this travel with large undisclosed gifts from unnamed donors.
The $285,000 fine is actually a civil penalty under a conciliation agreement between Sharpton and his groups and the FEC. According to the agreement:
…Sharpton 2004 kept poor records of its activities and expenditures, which often resulted in NAN or other entities paying for travel expenses incurred by the campaign.
It was the practice to charge all travel expenses to Sharpton’s American Express charge card. The card was then paid using multiple accounts owned by Sharpton, NAN and/or the Committee.
The agreement describes $509,188 in campaign-related expenses on Sharpton’s American Express card. His campaign committee paid $121,996, leaving $387,192 in illegal payments from other sources, including $65,000 from “unknown sources.”
Sharpton claimed to the FEC that records related to these activities were destroyed in a fire. This was the second time a mysterious fire at NAN headquarters had been cited by Sharpton. In 1997, just after Sharpton promised to open the financial records of NAN, he alleged they had been destroyed.
The February 6, 2004 Complaint included information first reported by Wayne Barrett in the Village Voice on January 24, 2004 in an article titled “Sleeping With the GOP” that detailed efforts by Republican consultant Roger Stone to qualify Sharpton for federal matching funds.
Although the FEC found “reason to believe” that Stone violated election law, it exercised its “prosecutorial discretion” and took no action against Stone.
The FEC also found that fast food mogul named La-Van Hawkins, who is now incarcerated, made excessive in-kind contributions to Sharpton by hosting a fundraiser at his Atlanta home in 2003.
According to Ebony magazine, Hawkins had his private jet pick Sharpton up in New York, and swing by Detroit to pick up his personal chef. Fresh crab cakes and carved beef tenderloins were washed down by $200 bottles of Cristal champagne, According to Ebony, “Hawkins worked the crowd, at times talking business and world politics with guests, at other times, seeming to ‘shake down’ guests for donations.”
In April 2005, more information about Sharpton’s relationship with Hawkins emerged during an unrelated corruption investigation centered in Philadelphia. Local Democratic fundraiser Ronald A. White and Hawkins reportedly were wiretapped having a conversation in which Hawkins expressed suspicions that Sharpton had failed to report money they had raised for his campaign.
The wiretap picked up Hawkins telling White he believed they had raised more than $140,000 for Sharpton in the previous quarter, but Hawkins worried because Sharpton had reported only about $50,000 on his federal election filing. “He’s a train wreck, a plane crash waiting to happen,” Hawkins reportedly told White about Sharpton. These reported allegations are not addressed in the conciliation agreement.
Hawkins had every reason to be grateful to Sharpton, who called for a boycott of Burger King after Hawkins sued Burger King for $1.9 billion in 2001. Hawkins, already an owner of 23 Burger Kings, alleged the company reneged on a promise to let him open 225 more in order to increase the number of minority-owned franchises. Ironically, Jesse Jackson sided with Burger King, which had been a financial supporter of Rainbow/PUSH for twenty years.
photo credit: AP/Wide World