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Watchdog: Follow the Money

Al Sharpton, seeking justice for Trayvon Martin, stiffed the FEC

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Watchdog,Watchdog Blog,Campaign Finance,Luke Rosiak,Trayvon Martin,Follow the Money,FEC,Al Sharpton

Civil rights activist and MSNBC commentator Al Sharpton says he won't rest until "justice is served" in the case of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. So it was no surprise to find Sharpton protesting in front of the Department of Justice Tuesday.

But no such recompense has been had for some of Sharpton's own violations: $20,000 in illegal campaign contributions to his 2004 presidential campaign were never turned over to the U.S. Treasury despite his agreement to do so.

And for years since then — as recently as April 2013 — the Sharpton campaign has continued to commit violations that incurred new fines, then failed to pay them.

Sharpton's National Action Network nonprofit, which is organizing the Martin protest marches, has repeatedly failed to pay taxes. The group currently owes $871,688 for unpaid "payroll taxes and related interest & penalties," according to its latest available Internal Revenue Service disclosure. The group claims to receive more than $3 million in contributions yearly.

In 2008, Sharpton aides told the Associated Press that he had begun drawing only a "token" salary from his nonprofit to ease the burden on its finances, and in consideration of his substantial earnings from TV appearances.

But IRS filings in the years since show he received a salary of between $240,000 and $250,000 each year.

In 2009, Sharpton acknowledged engaging in a massive breach of campaign finance regulations for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from prohibited sources for his 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. His campaign committee paid a $208,000 fine.

Taxpayers are still at a loss, however, because the conciliation agreement with the Federal Election Commission, the equivalent of a plea deal, also required the Sharpton campaign to turn over $20,000 in excessive contributions to the U.S. Treasury. Campaign disclosures filed Monday listed the still-outstanding debt to the U.S. government due for accepting "execssive contributions" [sic].

The Sharpton campaign had previously violated campaign finance regulations three times by failing to file disclosures, incurring fines of $2,150, none of which it has paid. The campaign also failed to file earlier this year, an infraction likely to result in another fine.

"When a respondent fails to pay the fine, the commission may transfer the case to the U.S. Department of the Treasury for collection. Alternatively, the commission may decide to file suit in the appropriate U.S. District Court to collect," the FEC said.

The conciliation agreement signed by Sharpton said "the committee incurred $509,188 in campaign-related expenses on Sharpton's American Express card, but had made payments ... totaling only $121,996.

"Thus, $387,192 was paid to Sharpton's American Express account for campaign expenses from other sources," including $107,615 in "impermissible" donations from National Action Network.

The nonprofit agreed to pay a $77,000 fine because of its role. The FEC's docket on the case had no record of that payment, but in response to questions from the Washington Examiner, the federal agency said it had misplaced the paperwork and the fine was paid.

The Sharpton campaign, which had been seeking matching taxpayer funds, listed as an outstanding debt of $208,000 on paperwork filed with the FEC Monday, describing it as a "Conciliationt [sic] Civil Penalty."

But that appears to be an error by a campaign treasurer whose difficulties go beyond spelling: FEC records show that $208,000 worth of checks were received from the campaign for the fine, even if they were a few months late.

Neither a spokeswoman for National Action Network, nor Andrew Rivera, the campaign's treasurer, responded to requests for comment.

Overall, the campaign is $925,713 in debt. Money is owed to 16 staffers, as well as companies such as UPS.

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Luke Rosiak

Senior Watchdog Reporter/Data Editor
The Washington Examiner