Civil Rights Activist Al Sharpton Still in Debt from Presidential Run

2004 presidential campaign still owes nearly $1M

Al Sharpton / AP
• July 15, 2013 1:45 pm


As civil rights agitator and MSNBC host Al Sharpton uses the weekend’s acquittal of George Zimmerman to raise his public profile, federal filings show his failed 2004 presidential campaign remains nearly a million dollars in debt.

The campaign still owes the Federal Election Commission (FEC) more than $200,000 in fines for a litany of nearly decade-old election law violations, a new quarterly FEC report details.

The campaign’s outstanding debts, including its FEC fine, total $925,713.78, according to its most recent quarterly report.

Sharpton is now a prime time host on MSNBC. His ratings are consistently the worst of any cable news show during the 6 p.m. hour.

The FEC fined Sharpton’s campaign $285,000 in 2009 for a host of violations committed during the 2004 race. According to the campaign’s latest filing, it still owes the commission $208,000.

The fines were the result of an FEC complaint filed by the National Legal and Policy Center. Ken Boehm, who drafted the complaint, said news of Sharpton’s outstanding debts do not come as a surprise.

"While Al Sharpton's public image has been as a racial demagogue, he also has a long record stiffing creditors and thumbing his nose at the law, Boehm told the Washington Free Beacon in an email.

"In this FEC case, Sharpton has done both," Boehm wrote.

The 2004 campaign also owes the U.S. Treasury $19,500 for an expense listed as "excessive contributions."

Dan Backer, a campaign finance attorney with DB Capitol Strategies, said he was surprised the FEC has not been more aggressive in collecting the fine.

"The FEC is supposed to send any unpaid fines to Treasury for collections," Backer noted in an email.

"They threaten all the little guys with that for trivial reporting errors, but I guess if you’re buddies with Obama, you can get away with it," Backer said.

Backer also suggested that a campaign’s failure to repay debts owed to vendors can act as in-kind contributions to that campaign.

"Candidates authorize their committees and are morally—and probably legally—obligated for those debts," he noted. "It’s a shame political vendors generally won’t sue clients, but it’s becoming a mill for unlawful in kind contributions."

Duke Energy, a prominent corporate supporter of the Democratic Party, was scrutinized for forgiving a $10 million debt owed by the Democratic National Committee for the company’s support for the party’s 2012 convention.

"At the end of the day we’ll do our best to get our money back," Duke CEO Jim Rogers said in January. "But if we don’t, it’s just a contribution we’re making I think for the greater good of our community."

The Sharpton campaign’s outstanding debts include loans made by Sharpton in his personal capacity. Andrew Rivera, the campaign’s treasurer, also loaned the campaign $3,500, which has not been repaid.

Rivera did not respond to a request for comment made via his businesses, the Adames Group.

Sharpton did not respond to a request for comment made through MSNBC.