USA Today Op-Ed: Trump’s pardons send a clear signal to those who disregard the rules
USA Today Op-Ed: Trump's pardons send a clear signal to those who disregard the rule
President Trump’s pardon of Dinesh D’Souza reeks of favoritism, special treatment and the swamp he lied about draining. Campaign-finance laws are supposed to curb the corrosive influence of money in the political process and uphold the principle that everyone should play by the same fair, commonsense rules.
D’Souza pleaded guilty in 2014 to orchestrating a “straw donor” scheme. He illegally funneled $20,000 to a failed U.S. Senate candidate — four times the per-campaign-cycle contribution limit then — by directing people to donate in their own names and then reimbursing them himself.
This violated federal candidate contribution limits and the public’s right to know who is spending money to influence our elections. Federal law is clear that no one may make a contribution in the name of another — including by reimbursing third parties to induce contributions.
The president tweeted that D’Souza was treated “very unfairly” by the government. Not true. D’Souza admitted to the willful commission of a felony and was sentenced to five years of probation, including eight months in a community confinement center.
D’Souza violated laws that have existed for decades to protect everyone’s right to have their voice heard in our democracy. Contribution limits curb corruption and the appearance of corruption by balancing out the power of big money. Our disclosure laws ensure that everyone knows who is trying to influence our views and our representatives. Secret and illegally excessive campaign contributions to candidates are unacceptable and undemocratic.
But our campaign-finance laws are only as good as they are enforced. The timing of the pardon is striking. Multiple campaign-finance complaints are pending against Trump and his associates.
Among them is one that we filed against the president, Vice President Pence, the Republican National Committee and others, alleging illegal coordination with Trump-supporting super PAC America First Action and its dark-money affiliate, America First Policies.
And of course, the president’s own attorney, Michael Cohen, is under federal investigation for campaign-finance violations related to Trump’s reimbursement of hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, among other things.
Trump’s pardon sends an unmistakable signal: He will abuse the pardon power to excuse those who flout the rules that protect the integrity of our democracy. As the president continues to debase the rule of law, Congress must put country before party and exercise its oversight responsibilities, and voters must continue to do their part to stay informed, stay engaged, and make their voices heard.
Karen Hobert Flynn is president of Common Cause. You can follow her on Twitter:@KHobertFlynn.