Sanders Fined For Accepting Aussies’ Help

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Washington — Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign will pay $14,500 as part of an agreement with the Federal Election Commission over allegations that the campaign wrongfully accepted in-kind donations from an Australian political party.

The complaint centered on a group of seven Australians who volunteered for the Vermont independent’s 2016 presidential bid.

The Australian Labor Party paid a total of $24,422 for the volunteers’ flights and stipends, according to the FEC document, provided by the Sanders campaign.

The Sanders campaign did not believe at the time that the money the individuals received from the Australian party would disqualify them from volunteering, according to the campaign.

However, the FEC determined that the money the party paid for the volunteers’ flights and stipend constituted an in-kind donation prohibited by federal campaign regulations and a 1971 law.

The Sanders campaign did not admit fault as part of the agreement, which according to the complaint was reached “solely for the purpose of settling this matter expeditiously and to avoid the expense of litigation.”

Sanders referred comment about the agreement to his longtime campaign aide, Jeff Weaver.

“It would have been far more expensive to fight it than to just deal” with the case, Weaver said on Wednesday.

The FEC also reached an agreement with the Australian Labor Party, under which the party will pay a $14,500 penalty, according to The Guardian.

According to the FEC document, the volunteers participated in “hands-on activity typical of volunteers,” including canvassing and planning events.

The Sanders campaign argued that the campaign did not ask the Australian party to send the volunteers, nor to cover their expenses. They also argued that though some campaign staff members knew that the Australians received stipends, they “mistakenly believed that the services performed by the ALP delegates constituted exempt volunteer activity,” according to the conciliation document.

Weaver, who helped negotiate the agreement with the FEC, said he saw the complaint about the Australian volunteers as politically motivated.

“It clearly was an attempt to cause trouble for our campaign,” Weaver said.

Asked about the finding in the context of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Weaver said the allegations about the Sanders campaign are “certainly not really a moral equivalency in my view.”

The complaint was brought by Republican William O’Brien, former speaker of the New Hampshire House, according to the New Hampshire television station WMUR. O’Brien did not respond to an email requesting comment late Wednesday afternoon.

O’Brien filed the complaint with the FEC in 2016 after the release of videos filmed by the conservative group Project Veritas, according to WMUR. The videos purported to show Australian campaign volunteers tearing down Trump campaign signs.