The son of late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown pleaded guilty Thursday to making illegal contributions to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s 1994 re-election campaign.
In a brief federal court appearance, Michael A. Brown, 32, admitted participating in a plan to launder $4,000 in donations to Kennedy, D-Mass., using three others as conduits. He had already given Kennedy $2,000, the maximum allowed by law, in his own name.
Justice Department prosecutor Raymond Hulser told the court that Brown, a lawyer at a prominent Washington, D.C., firm, approached three co-workers on Sept. 20, 1994, asked them to make donations and reimbursed them for the full amount.
At the time, Kennedy was facing an aggressive challenge from Republican Mitt Romney. Kennedy won, but not before raising $11.4 million, four times the amount he spent on his previous re-election campaign.
A Kennedy spokesman, Jim Manley, said the senator was not aware of the illegal circumstances of the donations at the time they were made and quickly returned them when questions were raised last year.
Prosecutors agreed to allow Brown to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor count, even while acknowledging that he could have been charged with a felony, and recommended he receive no jail time. Judge Ricardo Urbina set sentencing for Nov. 21.
Hulser told reporters that decision was based on the relatively small amount of illegal contributions in question. “I think this was a fair and appropriate resolution,” he said.
Hulser said the plea agreement obligated Brown to cooperate fully with prosecutors in any new cases that might develop out of the investigation but declined to say whether any such cases were in the works.
There is no direct connection between the Brown case and the allegations of fund-raising abuses in President Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign. But Kent Cooper, director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog group, said Brown might be able to help prosecutors investigating those allegations. “The cast of characters that this person (Brown) came in contact with might have been within the scope of activity they’re looking at,” he said.
Brown and his attorneys declined to answer questions after the court appearance. In a brief written statement, Brown called making the illegal donations a “mistake” but said he had cooperated fully with law enforcement authorities.
“It is my sincere hope that my family and I can move forward and put the tragedy of the last year fully behind us, and I can pursue important personal objectives - causes which meant a great deal to my father and continue to mean a great deal to my family and me,” Brown said in the statement.
Brown’s plea was the third obtained by a task force of Justice Department prosecutors investigating alleged fund-raising abuses. It comes on the heels of fresh Republican demands that Attorney General Janet Reno turn the investigation over to an independent counsel.
The Brown case stemmed from an investigation of his father, a legendary Washington operator and Democratic fund-raiser, by independent prosecutor Daniel Pearson. The principal issue that triggered the investigation was the propriety of hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments Ron Brown received from Nolanda Hill, a longtime business associate and personal friend.
xxxx FUND-RAISING HEARINGS TO RESUME NEXT WEEK WASHINGTON - The Senate committee investigating campaign fund-raising abuses will resume its hearings next week, the panel’s chairman said Thursday. After taking a monthlong recess, members of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee will reconvene next Thursday, according to a statement from Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. A list of witnesses scheduled to testify before the panel will be announced early next week. Committee hearings were adjourned earlier this month when Congress began its summer recess.