Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Fieger found not guilty of campaign finance donations

I don't like Fieger at all, but it's not illegal to be a jackass. Do I agree with the verdict? I don't know since I wasn't there, but I predicted . These cases are very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. I first commented on this case when charges were brought. Here

I wish I had the time to courtwatch this case. Fieger did a real smart thing when he was charged. He hired probably the best defense attorney in the entire country in Gerry Spence. Spence earned my respect for the way he handled the Randy Weaver case and railroading at Ruby Ridge. He did the impossible and got an aquittal there. If you are going to go up against Gerry Spence, your case needs to be perfect.

I have two biases here that compete against one another. I have anti-Fieger, but pro-defense leanings.

From the Free Press

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger won a dramatic acquittal Monday on federal charges of violating campaign-finance laws, saving his lucrative career and sending federal prosecutors in Detroit to yet another crushing defeat in a high-profile case.

and this

Helland disputed repeated claims by Fieger’s lawyers that bigwigs at the Justice Department in Washington targeted Fieger, a Democrat who rose to fame defending assisted-suicide physician Jack Kevorkian and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1998.

Ordinarily, such cases are handled by the Federal Election Commission as a civil matter with fines.

Fieger and Johnson were accused of recruiting 64 employees, family members, friends and vendors to contribute $127,000 to the campaign of Edwards — who, like Fieger, made his fortune as a trial lawyer — and reimbursing the donors with law firm funds.
Ordinarily, such cases are handled by the Federal Election Commission as a civil matter with fines.

Fieger is no campaign finance saint and actually admitted to breaking the law with anyonomous donations in a PAC he formed under the name "Herb Charboneau" in a State Supreme Court race. His history there is not good. That would have been much easier to prove than this federal case. This is very, very difficult to prove.

What Fieger did was one of the oldest tricks in the book. He got his friends, workers, and others to donate to a candidate, since he could not go above the max. That's legal. If he reimbursed them specificaly for that donation, it wasn't. In a criminal case, it has to be proven as well that he knew it was not legal, and they need to prove that the reimbursement was specificaly for the transaction to the John Edwards campaign. That is not an easy thing to do beyond a reasonable doubt. The Detroit News has this gem of a quote

West Bloomfield labor attorney Lester Owczarski, a former state administrative law judge who sat through most of the trial, said prosecutors failed to present a case jurors could care about. "It was too much inside baseball ... this thing was just too technical," he said of the Fieger case.

Campaign finance law is extremely technical. It is technical to the point where most people break the law, and not even know it. Go to the Michigan Campaign Finance site and look up a random committee. If it doesn't have the $1000 waiver box checked, more than likely, you'll find something illegal there. The State is reasonable on that stuff and usually sends back "Errors/Omissions" notices, which is roughly equal to a "fix-it" ticket. Fix the problem and do it right, with no penalty outside of more work. Look how common those notices are. Look how common late filings are. Some forget to file. The federal laws are even more technical than the state laws.

I understand most of the campaign finance jargon because I've treasured campaigns for eight years, but unless you are an experienced treasurer or a hands on candidate who studies this, you will be overwhelmed. Even a lot of attorneys are overwhelmed by some of this stuff. If Spence got the jury to understand how technical and easy it is to break the law, that juror is going to be quite sympathetic to a defendant. Paint the prosecutors as bad guys like he did as well, and the juror can visualize that possibility in the back of their mind for a doubt. I don't think there were any campaign treasurers on that jury, as they would be disqualified immediately. The prosecution created a real tough draw for themselves with this because it such a difficult case to prove.

I wasn't there, but I don't think this was an open and shut case. Based on what I know on this, I can see a case made for a reasonable doubt. I'm not convinced Fieger is not guilty, but I'm not convinced that he was either beyond a reasonable doubt. I hate sending someone to prison on a technicality, even if I don't like him.

On a related matter, I'd like to see a revamp of the campaign finance laws. Full immediate disclosure, and unlimited donations by individuals. Everything then is out on the table and these games will not be played.


keithr said...

When Fieger ran for Gov he got most of his votes from Wayne County so it should be no surpise the jury there let him off the hook, and it didn't hurt that Feiger hired the best defense lawyers in the nation, PLUS he ran commercials during the trial telling everyone about what a great guy he is.

Feiger proved one thing here, that it sure helps to have unlimited funds available when on the hot seat.

Peter said...

Hello. I live in Kalamazoo County and am one of those suffering from Michigan's one-state recession. How do I volunteer to do work in Michigan for the Republican party? I checked the website but, aside from a donation box (useless to me right now) I see no way to sign up for anything.

Or am I better off shopping my free time to private, pro-business groups in MI?

Thank you for your time.

com dot gmail at somercet