Legal experts say that reports of liberal comedian Rosie O’Donnell donating more than the legal limit to five Democratic candidates reflect a common breach in campaign financing that often is dismissed by authorities.
But The New York Post reporting that Miss O’Donnell gave a combined $5,400 in contributions over the limit to the five candidates using five different New York addresses and four variations of her name could prompt closer scrutiny, they say.
“The key thing any prosecutor looking at this [asks is], was that just accidental? Was she was being careless? Or was she intentionally trying to hide her contributions?” said Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation and a former member of the Federal Election Commission.
For her part, Miss O’Donnell told The Post that she figured the candidates would simply send back any cash they couldn’t keep.
“I just donate assuming they do not accept what is over the limit,” she said.
Under federal campaign finance laws, individuals are limited to donating $2,700 to a candidate’s campaign committee per election and $5,000 to a political action committee per year.
Mr. von Spakovsky said campaign officials should refund excess donations, and donors or campaigns could be slapped with a civil fine for breaking the rules, assuming the infraction wasn’t pre-meditated. Miss O’Donnell’s use of different names and addresses is suspicious, he said, adding that the FEC could refer the matter to the Justice Department.
Dan Weiner, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said Miss O’Donnell’s contributions were certainly “sloppy.”
“If I were advising her, I’d say, ‘You really should keep better track of this,’” Mr. Weiner said, adding that her kind of donation gaffe “almost never” triggers the legal system unless there’s evidence of more than just an honest mistake....Charlie Spies, a Republican election law expert, said campaign contribution limits are “the basic tenets of campaign finance law.”“Shame on Rosie and the recipient campaigns for not paying attention to this basic rule,” Mr. Spies said. “Rosie takes it upon herself to weigh in on political issues all the time. She should learn the rules of participating in the process.”Infractions like hers often can be cleared up by campaigns refunding the excess money “in a timely fashion,” he said. “If Rosie accidentally went over the limits this is not even a traffic ticket [level offense].”The rules in question date back to the post-Watergate era of finance reforms, Mr. Spies said, adding that the donation limits are indexed every two years for inflation.