Florida Dems Accused of Illegal ‘Straw’ Campaign Donation Scheme

Rep. Patrick Murphy accused of violating election laws for fourth time this cycle

Patrick Murphy, Charlie Crist
Patrick Murphy, Charlie Crist / AP
June 23, 2016

A Republican-aligned political group is asking federal authorities to investigate what it suspects is a series of illegal campaign contributions to Democratic House and Senate candidates in Florida.

The Senate Leadership Fund, a GOP Super PAC, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging a series of "illegal straw donations" to Rep. Patrick Murphy, who is running for U.S. Senate, and former governor Charlie Crist, who is running for a House seat in the state.

The complaint marks the fourth time that Murphy has been accused of skirting federal election laws in his bid to unseat Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

SLF admits it does not have a smoking gun, but says that a "highly suspicious pattern of large donations to Murphy and Crist" merits an FEC investigation.

The group’s complaint notes two clusters of contributions from the family of and others with ties to Ibrahim Al-Rashid, a Murphy donor and son of a Saudi Arabian oligarch who pleaded guilty to domestic violence charges in 2014.

Al-Rashid’s father, Nasser Al-Rashid, is a major donor to the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. He’s given between $1 million and $5 million, according to the group’s website.

The younger Al-Rashid’s ex-wife, her parents, grandmother, half-brother, and half-brother’s wife donated a combined $23,000 to Murphy’s House campaign between March 7 and April 5, 2011, FEC records show.

SLF refers to this group as the Pennsylvania Donor Network. The year before, members of that network—including Al-Rashid and his wife’s family members—donated more than $25,000 to Crist’s failed Senate campaign.

Murphy and Crist are friends.

Additional Murphy and Crist contributions came from a Miami resident named Millerlandy Badillo. According to a 2012 police report on a break-in at Al-Rashid’s home, Badillo was his "cleaning lady." SLF claims, "on information and belief," that she has also cleaned Murphy’s home.

Both Crist’s and Murphy’s FEC reports identified Badillo as an employee of a Texas-based company called Limestone Property Management. That company’s registered agent is Ramzi Al-Rashid, whom SLF "believe[s] to be the half brother of Ibrahim Al-Rashid."

Two other Limestone employees and their spouses donated a combined $7,500 to Crist in 2010 and $5,000 to Murphy the following year. SLF refers to them as the Texas Donor Network.

None of the members of either donor network has contributed to any other federal campaign.

"The clustering of contributions among these two groups in the absence of any other federal contribution history among the donors is highly suspicious," SLF wrote in its FEC complaint. "The only evident connection between these people is Ibrahim Al-Rashid."

"Taken together, there is a strong reason to suspect that both the Pennsylvania Donor Network and the Texas Donor Network are, in fact, networks of straw donors that either participated in an unlawful scheme to funnel Ibrahim Al-Rashid’s contributions, or were used by Al-Rashid to funnel contributions without their knowledge."

At issue are federal laws that prohibit and individual from donation to a campaign on behalf of another person. Such schemes are generally used to evade contribution limits, and can carry hefty penalties.

The father of Rep. Ami Bera (D., Calif.) is currently facing up to ten years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of felony election fraud for a scheme to reimburse donors to his son’s campaign.

Republicans have also accused Bera’s family of illegally coordinating with Murphy. Murphy’s mother donated $5,200 to Bera’s campaign in 2013. Two weeks later, each of Bera’s parents donated the same amount to Murphy.

Murphy has also been accused of illegally trading legislative favors for financial support. He cosponsored legislation in 2014 to permanently extend a visa program that benefitted a major campaign donor.

Another FEC complaint in May alleged that Murphy had illegally coordinated with a Super PAC supporting his reelection bid.

His campaign did not respond to a request for comment by press time.