Another Court Criminalizes Political Activity -- Will It Be Applied Equally?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has ruled, in United States v. Benton (8th Cir. May 11, 2018) that three officials from Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign committed criminal acts by (1) paying an Iowa State Senator for various services, including his endorsement, through a sub-contract with a video production vendor and (2) reporting the purpose of the expenditure as "audio/visual services."

The State Senator indeed provided "audio/visual services" to the Paul campaign by recording telephone messages and appearing on television for the Paul campaign.  He also traveled for the campaign and encouraged support for the campaign.  But federal prosecutors claimed the main purpose of the payment was the State Senator's "endorsement," which was not reported as the purpose of the payment.

All three of the Republican political operatives were convicted and punished.  One had his house raided and went to prison.    

The ruling has serious implications for the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.  News media have reported that the Clinton campaign and DNC funneled money to the Perkins Coie law firm, which in turn sub-contracted with an opposition research firm, Fusion GPS, which in turn sub-contracted with a foreign operative, Christopher Steele, to perform opposition research about Donald Trump.  The foreign operative reached out to Russians with Kremlin connections for information that might harm Donald Trump's candidacy.  The Clinton campaign reported the purpose of its payments to Perkins Coie as "legal services."  One liberal group has filed a complaint with the FEC over the activity.  

RNLA member Prof. Brad Smith noted that this decision could impact Perkins Coie:

“If I'm Perkins Coie, right now I'm a bit nervous about the reporting of payments to Fusion GPS,” said Brad Smith, a former FEC chairman and current chairman of the Institute for Free Speech.

Republicans do not support the criminalization of politics.  But Republicans do respect the rule of law and equal justice.