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Felonious intent or conservative target?

"Felonious intent or conservative target?" Continued...

“I can’t really talk about the case but I will say that I’m determined to continue my work,” D’Souza said. “I’m undeterred and I’m marching full speed ahead.”

When Hannity asked whether D’Souza had been politically targeted, he responded, “I will say that the film 2016 was a film that does seem to have gotten under President Obama’s skin. … We know the film rattled him, we know the film upset him, and whether this is some kind of payback remains to be seen.” 

D’Souza’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, has said, “I don’t think there’s much dispute about what happened,” but added there is dispute about whether what happened violated federal law because D’Souza had no criminal intent. At worst, he added, this was a case of “misguided friendship.” At the arraignment Brafman said, “I don’t want my silence on that as to accept every fact stated by Ms. Cohen, but I am not suggesting that she is misstating the record. I just don’t think it’s necessary for us to put in our defense here.”

The attorney raised a legitimate question about why D’Souza was charged with a felony when in the past such crimes were treated as misdemeanors and resolved through fines. 

In 2006, the FEC fined an Arkansas law firm $50,000 for arranging straw donations for John Edwards’ 2004 presidential campaign. The Edwards campaign also paid a $9,500 fine for accepting the contributions. The lawyer responsible and the law firm faced no felony charges. 

Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California Irvine School of Law and an expert on campaign finance law, said the U.S. Department of Justice has recently been bringing more cases like D’Souza’s to prosecution. 

In the post-Citizens United world (the January 2010 Supreme Court decision that recognized the right of corporations to fund political speech), the Justice Department has much less to prosecute. Now, someone can give unlimited money to a super PAC, which in turn funds a candidate—no straw donations needed. The donor wouldn’t have the control of giving directly to a candidate but could know if a super PAC was supporting that candidate. For example, billionaire Foster Friess donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to a super PAC that effectively kept Rick Santorum’s campaign afloat during the 2012 GOP presidential primaries. 

D’Souza’s next court appearance is March 4, when the court will likely set a trial date. Prosecutors said if the case goes to trial, the trial would be short, no more than three days.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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