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FEC Chair Claims Charges Against Giuliani Associates Just Tip of the Iceberg
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18 Oct 2019 06:39 AM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Ellen Weintraub (Image source: IV News via Wikimedia Commons)

The chairman of the Federal Election Commission, Ellen Weintraub, is warning that the surprising charges against two of Rudy Giuliani's associates for campaign finance violations are just the "tip of the iceberg" and there is a lot more out there to be found. 

Florida businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were arrested while attempting to leave the country last week. They had been working with Donald Trump's personal attorney on the conspiracy theory about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter that led Trump to ask Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, allegedly in exchange for a White House visit and U.S. aid.

Parnas and Fruman were being investigated for some time; it was not just because the Biden information. It has to do with funneling foreign money into U.S. politics. 

"There may well be a lot of money that is slipping into our system that we just don't know about," said Weintraub in an interview after Parnas and Fruman were arrested.

But the FEC is not able to do anything about this. They cannot conduct formal business after the vice chairman left the position in August. The FEC needs a quorum and Trump has not appointed a fourth commissioner. Weintraub is a Democrat who has held the position three times since her initial appointment by former President George W. Bush in 2002. 

"When campaign finance issues are on the front pages of the newspaper every single day, this is a particularly bad time for the FEC not to have a quorum and not be able to respond to enforcement matters, not to be able to have new rule-making or issue advisory opinions," shared Weintraub.

She enforced the idea that "the ban on foreign money, obviously, is needed to make sure we have American elections for Americans." 

It's unknown where the money came from that Giuliani's associates were using, but "prosecutors alleged that Parnas and Fruman were backed in part by an unnamed Russian national who used them to funnel donations to state and federal candidates."

The Wall Street Journal reported that "at least 14 Republican candidates and groups directly received a total of $675,500 in campaign contributions last year" from Parnas and Fruman. 

Six of those donations, according to Manhattan federal prosecutors, involved "either a shell company used to hide the men's identities or foreign money meant to curry favor with U.S. politicians." $325,00 of that money was given to a pro-Trump Super PAC.

Weintraub isn't one to blame it on straw donors either. "The ban on contributions in the name of another ... is at the core of the FEC's mission to ensure that the voters are informed about where the money is coming from and where it's going and who politicians are indebted to." 

She added, "If we have people giving in other peoples names, then we lose that valuable information about who is the true source of the money."

While she refused to discuss whether Trump asking Zelensky to investigate the Bidens broke any rules "because it's too close to the facts of an actual thing that could come before the commission in an enforcement context," Weintraub noted, "It is certainly illegal to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election." 

She concluded, "That's just black letter law."