News & Politics

Sharpton Forced To Return Campaign Funds…To Himself

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By Jana Kasperkevic

Nothing much surprises us anymore about the charmed life of Reverend Al Sharpton, but even he must have wondered in recent weeks just how he gets away with it all. Hanging at the White House with Mike Bloomberg. The governor, David Paterson, launching his comeback rally at Sharpton’s National Action Network.

But it wasn’t all good news: the Federal Election Commission levied $285,000 in civil penalties against Sharpton’s 2004 presidential campaign, the largest fine ever against a presidential candidate. That’s on top of $200,000 in matching funds the FEC required him to return.

Another person might be embarrassed by that kind of penalty, but Sharpton gloated, celebrating it as a victory of sorts in his negotiations with the FEC. “I think this completely vindicates our campaign staff from the allegations that they were willfully doing things wrong,” the reverend declared.

He may have had reason to be smug. The Voice learned some startling things by looking more carefully at the FEC’s agreement with Sharpton…

A November audit found that Sharpton had received $497,303 in
prohibited contributions, which he was then ordered to refund. But his
representatives negotiated a “conciliation agreement” that instead
allowed him to refund only $200,615 – and $181,115 of that to his own
non-profit.

Of the $285,000 civil penalty, $208,000 is charged
to his election committee, and $77,000 will be paid by National Action
Network (NAN), his nonprofit.

In the agreement, Sharpton
admitted that the travel expenses for both NAN and the 2004 campaign
committee were charged to the same American Express card, and that
because the committee “kept poor records” NAN and other entities,
rather than the committee, ended up paying for those expenses. However,
unlike the audit, which specified all the refunds were to be paid to
the Treasury, the agreement gives Sharpton the option of refunding the
original contributors – one of which is NAN, which is to be refunded
$181,115.

The conciliation agreement as well as the press
release issued by the FEC did not specify whether the $181,115 paid by
NAN ($107,615 in payments for American Express bills and $73,500 in
payments to vendors) was to be refunded by the election committee back
to NAN or would be given to the Treasury. The FEC says the choice of
paying the Treasury is offered in case the original “contributor(s)
won’t cash the checks or cannot be found easily.” That should not be a
problem in this case since NAN is Sharpton’s own company. He found it
in 1991 and is the only person on the organization’s payroll. Judith
Ingram, a press officer for the FEC, tells the Voice that the FEC is
“not making a determination on who benefits from this transaction.”

When
the campaign repays NAN, as agreed to in the agreement, it’s like
Sharpton is repaying himself. The money flows from Sharpton, whose
income is largely drawn from NAN, to the campaign, which then repays
NAN, meaning it goes from one Sharpton pocket to another. But he never
has to change his three piece suit.