Thursday, March 27, 2008

Uh-oh (Updated 2:05 p.m.)

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign says it “has complied with the law” surrounding a fundraising concert that Elton John is scheduled to perform on April 9 in New York City on behalf of the Democratic presidential candidate.

The statement came after Inside the Beltway earlier today questioned whether the New York senator and the British pop music star were violating the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), which seeks to “minimize foreign intervention” in U.S. elections by establishing a series of limitations on foreign nationals.

The FECA “prohibits any foreign national from contributing, donating or spending funds in connection with any federal, state, or local election in the United States, either directly or indirectly. It is also unlawful to help foreign nationals violate that ban or to solicit, receive or accept contributions or donations from them. Persons who knowingly and willfully engage in these activities may be subject to fines and/or imprisonment.”

“There are a series of advisory opinions issued over the years surrounding situations kind of like this, but not exactly like this,” FEC spokesman Bob Biersack told Inside the Beltway earlier. “That’s the problem with an advisory opinion they’re not the same, but they do provide some sense of where the commission stands.”

Today, however, Mr. Biersack called attention to an FEC opinion from 2004 (No. 2004-26) that dealt with a Guatemalan national who became engaged to a U.S. congressman and sought guidance on volunteering for his election campaign.

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    In that specific case, the FEC ruled that Zury Rios Sosa could be involved in Florida Rep. Jerry Weller’s campaign, provided she not be compensated or else help manage or participate in decisions of his campaign committee.

    By contrast, an earlier 1981 FEC decision prohibited a foreign national artist from donating his services in connection with fundraising for a U.S. Senate campaign.

    “Since 1987, the FEC has consistently held that foreign nationals may volunteer their time for campaigns on an uncompensated basis,” Mrs. Clinton’s campaign said in its statement. “Elton John is simply volunteering his uncompensated time to appear at the concert.”

    Mr. Biersack said a complaint would have to be filed with the FEC before the commission could issue an advisory opinion on the Elton John concert, and even then it would remain confidential until completed.

    Set himself up

    “Wait a minute,” writes Inside the Beltway reader Mitch Moschetti of Mills River, N.C., after reading our item this week on Elton John performing a fundraising concert in New York next month on behalf of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton‘s presidential campaign.

    “Didn’t Elton John say this country was racist for failing to support a black contestant a couple years ago on ‘American Idol?’ ”

    Good memory, Mitch. Indeed, Sir Elton did decry the voting process of the “American Idol” TV show as racist, despite the fact that the votes for the contestants are phoned in by the American public.

    “The three people I was really impressed with — and they just happened to be black, young female singers — all seem to be landing in the bottom three,” the British pop singer complained back in 2004. “They have great voices. The fact that they’re constantly in the bottom three — and I don’t want to set myself up here — but I find it incredibly racist.”

    Dine and dish

    Saying that too many political fundraisers are hosted by Washington lobbyists and filled with representatives of special interests, Sen. Barack Obama will choose four ordinary Americans for what his campaign is calling an intimate dinner with the candidate.

    The only catch is you must first make a donation in any amount to his campaign between now and 11:59 p.m. Monday, March 31. The four winners then will get to sit down with the presidential candidate and talk about the issues most important to them.

    Who pays for the diners’ transportation to the dinner was not spelled out. The Obama campaign will pay transportation costs for those attending the dinner.

    John McCaslin can be reached at 202/636-3284 or

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