There’s been a fair amount of interest lately about John McCain’s contributions from the oil industry. It’s not surprising some of the donations raised eyebrows — that’s what happens when a middle-class family that rents their home in Queens donates more than $60,000 to the Republican campaign.
The concern, of course, is whether McCain’s generous benefactors are playing a shell game. It’s illegal for a donor to get the money from another source — it’s called the “straw donor” problem — and if people who seemingly wouldn’t (or couldn’t) write big checks to a political campaign suddenly become generous donors, it’s going to raise questions about whether there’s an illegal fundraising scheme being orchestrated.
Today, in a fascinating front-page report in the WaPo, those questions get considerably louder.
The bundle of $2,300 and $4,600 checks that poured into Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign on March 12 came from an unlikely group of California donors: a mechanic from D&D Auto Repair in Whittier, the manager of Rite Aid Pharmacy No. 5727, the 30-something owners of the Twilight Hookah Lounge in Fullerton.
But the man who gathered checks from them is no stranger to McCain — he shuttled the Republican on his private plane and held a fundraising event for the candidate at his house in Delray Beach, Fla.
Harry Sargeant III, a former naval officer and the owner of an oil-trading company that recently inked defense contracts potentially worth more than $1 billion, is the archetype of a modern presidential money man. The law forbids high-level supporters from writing huge checks, but with help from friends in the Middle East and the former chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit — who now serves as a consultant to his company — Sargeant has raised more than $100,000 for three presidential candidates from a collection of ordinary people, several of whom professed little interest in the outcome of the election.
And when the Post says “little interest,” that’s quite literal. Some of the generous checks Sargeant has bundled for McCain come from people who aren’t even registered to vote.
Some of the most prolific givers in Sargeant’s network live in modest homes in Southern California’s Inland Empire. Most had never given a political contribution before being contacted by Sargeant or his associates. Most said they have never voiced much interest in politics. And in several instances, they had never registered to vote. And yet, records show, some families have ponied up as much as $18,400 for various candidates between December and March.
Both Sargeant and the donors were vague when asked to explain how Sargeant persuaded them to give away so much money.
“I have a lot of Arab business partners. I do a lot of business in the Middle East. I’ve got a lot of friends,” Sargeant said in a telephone interview yesterday. “I ask my friends to support candidates that I think are worthy of supporting. They usually come through for me.”
One of these friends is Ibrahim Marabeh, the manager of a Rite Aid drugstore. Neither Marabeh nor his wife are even registered to vote, but the couple has nevertheless donated more than $9,000 this year to Sargeant-backed candidates (Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton). When asked, Marabeh said he hadn’t made any campaign contributions. He then said he was asked to donate by “a local person. But I would like not to talk about it anymore.”
That seems a little odd.
And now that Sargeant has become a top bundler for John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee is getting big checks from people who seem passively disinterested in politics. Abdullah Abdullah, a supervisor at several Taco Bell restaurants, and his wife have donated $9,200 to McCain. Asked about his contributions, Abdullah said, “I have no idea. I’ll be honest with you.”
Earlier this year, Norman Hsu, a top Clinton bundler, was brought up on criminal charges for allegedly using “straw donors” to exceed legal limits. The media treated this as a pretty big deal for quite a while.
I wonder if Harry Sargeant’s name will soon achieve similar notoriety.
McCain’s generous — and ‘unlikely’ — financial supporters - The Carpetbagger Report