Al's Secret Admirers

F.E.C. Filings reveal that Sharpton has friends with friends in high places

But a Detroit news anchor, Carolyn Clifford, is on record as donating even though it was her husband who wrote the check. Patrina Dobbins, a hairdresser from outside Detroit, said in a phone interview last week that she does not recall the $2,000 donation the FEC records say she gave. Her husband and a co-worker also gave the maximum.

Some of the campaign finance curiosities in Sharpton's reports pop up in many campaigns. In Sharpton's case, some of these are more interesting than others. The comptroller's office would not say what hedge fund Thompson and White discussed in their May 8, 2003, meeting. But the federal indictment says White was involved in a hedge fund run by White's largest contributor to the Philadelphia mayoral campaign. Press reports identified White's largest contributor as John P. McNiff, head of Longwood Investment Partners and a hedge fund called Discovery Capital.

McNiff did not give Al Sharpton any campaign money. But his then 63-year-old mother, Ann McNiff, did—she donated the maximum $2,000 on February 26, 2003. The next day, McNiff's maternal uncles Peter and Stanley Marcinkewicz gave $2,000 and $1,000 respectively. For all three donors, it was their only political donation at the state or federal level recorded in online databases. Ann McNiff died last August. A message sent to the Marcinkewicz brothers through another relative was not returned. John McNiff did not return phone messages.

McNiff was not implicated in any way by the Philly corruption case. It was during that trial—which went to the jury last week—that word of the surveillance of Sharpton emerged, when a federal prosecutor indicated in court that evidence about Sharpton may have been referred to another jurisdiction.

It's entirely possible that Patrina Dobbins, her co-worker, and her husband all decided to make their first federal political donations on successive days, to give the maximum amount, and to give it to Sharpton almost a year before the first presidential primary—just as Marsha Jews did. It's also possible that three relatives of the hedge fund guru linked to Ron White genuinely supported Sharpton and decided to cut him big checks. Sharpton, responding to a similarly speculative comment, said at last week's press conference, "Anything is possible."

It might be impossible to know whether Sharpton's campaign intentionally did something wrong, because his campaign finances were disorganized and intimately linked with those of Sharpton's nonprofit National Action Network. The FEC raised numerous complaints and is still trying to get back the $100,000 in matching funds. Onetime campaign manager Frank Watkins says Sharpton owes him about $60,000. But Watkins says he doesn't think Sharpton committed any of the wrongs implied by the reports of the videotape.

Sharpton says that, aside from a letter notifying him that he'd been picked up by FBI surveillance, he hasn't been contacted by anyone from the FBI or U.S. Attorney's offices. "In fact, there is no allegation," Sharpton said during the presser outside the Post.

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