The Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust (FACT), a political watchdog group out of Washington D.C., has filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission requesting an investigation into 10th District congressional democrat candidate Michael Eggman and his campaign for what appears to be a "straw donation" made within his campaign.
A straw donor is a person who illegally uses another person's money to make a political contribution in their own name.
Eggman is running for Congress against incumbent Republican Congressman Jeff Denham.
In a May 25 article, The Oakdale Leader reported that on June 23, 2013 ‘Eggman for Congress 2014' donated $1,000 to the ‘Bera for Congress' campaign. Seven days later, Bera's father, Babulal Bera, donated $1,000 back to ‘Eggman for Congress 2014.'
Earlier this year Babulal Bera, 83, pleaded guilty in Sacramento federal court to two felony counts of election fraud involving the finances of his son's campaign committee. In court he admitted that he recruited a number of friends, family members and acquaintances to make contributions to his son's campaign and reimbursed them with his own money.
In May when the Eggman campaign was contacted by The Leader about its discovery, Eggman campaign spokesman Robert Phillips said they believed the donation by Bera was legal, but were donating the $1,000 to Planned Parenthood. He declined to address the original donation to the Bera campaign.
In the five-page complaint letter dated July 26 to the FEC, the organization states, "The actions of Michael Eggman and Respondents enabled illegal contributions to flow through the federal campaign finance system, subverting the government's compelling interest in proper disclosure and making a mockery of federal campaign finance law."
Campaign laws limit the amount of money an individual can donate to a candidate.
In its complaint, FACT alleged Eggman himself, and Eggman for Congress, made contributions in the name of other persons and knowingly accepted unlawful contributions. The campaign's treasurer, Jay Petterson, is also named in the complaint that stated they failed to file complete and accurate reports with the FEC as required.
"Given the complex nature of the Bera family's straw donor scam and Michael Eggman's close cooperation and participation, it is clear that Michael Eggman, the Eggman Campaign, and Jay Petterson knowingly accepted unlawful contributions and should be required to disgorge any ill-gotten gains," the complaint states. "No other explanation withstands scrutiny."
Kendra Arnold, FACT's General Counsel, said it was The Leader article that alerted them to file the complaint.
"We rely on the media for information and then take it to the authorities that have jurisdiction to take action on ethical violations," said Arnold. "Based on the donations and repayment clearly documented, it looks to us like an illegal straw donation violation."
Arnold said they are awaiting a response from the FEC which could take up to two weeks and the investigation time depends on the complexity of the case.
"It seems pretty clear as a disguise to misrepresent where the money was coming from," Arnold said. "We do view this as a very serious violation. Straws (violations) are illegal and there's a reason for that."
As of Thursday, July 28, several calls into Eggman's campaign office had gone unreturned for comment about the filed complaint.
On Eggman's webpage and Facebook page he invited the public to his Modesto office to watch the Democratic Convention that evening.
When contacted at the 15th Street office just after 5 p.m., Eggman staffer Kristal Romero stated they were aware of the inquiries and would not be returning the calls. She added that "the candidate" would not be there in and that it was a closed function.
When advised that it was Eggman that invited the public to join him for the event, Romero refused entry.
"This event may be open to the public, but not to the press," Romero said. "You'll have to leave now."
FACT was organized two years ago as a response to watchdogs groups on the left such as American Democracy Legal Fund and Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington. FACT is a non-profit group of citizens who "are committed to exposing unethical behavior, changing the culture of politics, and restoring faith in our public officials."
Their Executive Director, Matthew G. Whitaker, is a former US Attorney.
According to their website, FACT is dedicated to "...promoting accountability, ethics, and transparency in government and civic arenas by hanging a lantern over public officials who put their own interests over the interests of the public good.