Could Beto O’Rourke Legally Give Campaign Money to the Caravan?

By Rachel Alexander Published on November 20, 2018

James O’Keefe of Project Veritas caused quite a stir when he caught staff from Beto O’Rourke’s U.S. Senate campaign admitting they spent campaign funds on supplies for the South American caravan. Federal law prohibits the spending of campaign funds for personal use. But it allows donations to charity.

The campaign now claims they were authorized by that law. Maybe. But the staff itself was filmed saying they thought the activity was illegal.

They Ignored the Rules

“For me, I can ignore the rules,” field manager Dominic Chacon says on tape. “I don’t mind breaking the rules and I can defend any position.” Field organizer AnaPaula Themann says a few moments later, “Don’t ever repeat this and stuff but, like, if we just say that we’re buying food for a campaign event, like the Halloween events, ’cause there’s block walks coming up for Halloween.”

Chacon adds,“I think we can use that with those [campaign pre-paid] cards to buy some food, all that s**t can be totally masked like, oh we just wanted a healthy breakfast!” One staffer raises the prospect of a “$50,000 fine” if caught. The footage also shows campaign staff discussing using campaign vehicles to give rides.

Denies Funding the Caravan

O’Rourke’s campaign sent a statement to Politifact on November 2. “Ted Cruz shamefully and falsely suggested that the Beto for Texas campaign used campaign dollars to fund a caravan that remains hundreds of miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.”

The campaign said they provided funds for illegal immigrants in El Paso. Staffers used prepaid credit cards to buy “wipes, diapers, water, fruit and granola bars.” They donated the cards to Annunciation House. It is a nonprofit that provides support to illegal immigrants.

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According to the FEC website, campaigns can give to charity “as long as the candidate does not receive compensation from the charitable organization before it has expended the entire amount donated.” Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at the government watchdog group Common Cause, observed, “If the campaign were to incorrectly report these funds, then the tape … would be evidence that the violation was knowing and willful.”

Also, if the campaign had provided the credit cards directly to the illegal immigrants instead of to Annunciation House it would have violated the law. The FEC’s website says, “On special occasions, campaign funds may be used to purchase gifts or make donations of nominal value to persons other than the members of the candidate’s family.” This was not a special occasion.

Possibly Illegal

Campaign money cannot be used to assist with an illegal act. If the O’Rourke campaign had provided funds to the caravan, there might be an argument that was illegal. However, the campaign insists it was providing funds to help illegal immigrants already in the country.

The campaign claims it donated less than $300. It said it will report the spending. But until the campaign reports are filed, there is no way to verify the claims. If the campaign did not list the expense in the campaign report on time, it could be guilty of misreporting. Or making a false statement to the government. The latter is a crime.

Even if the campaign violated no election laws, the staff donated money from O’Rourke’s supporters to illegal immigrants. A good share of those supporters would not approve.

But then, Beto hasn’t really said what he thinks about the caravan. Ted Cruz observed that Beto has ducked the issue of the caravan. “Beto has not answered the simple question: should we allow this caravan to cross illegally into the state of Texas?”

 

Follow Rachel on Twitter at Rach_IC. Send tips to [email protected].

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