Michigan Democrat Gary Peters’ latest campaign disclosures show no sign that he donated a convicted felon’s campaign contributions to charity as he has repeatedly claimed.
Peters received $1,250 in campaign contributions from Xhafer Laho, an Albanian businessman who was accused of supplying loan shark Tomo Duhanaj with customers and helping him launder money. He was convicted on several counts of lying to federal agents and was sentenced to four years in federal prison on October 1.
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Peters spokeswoman Haley Morris said that Laho’s contributions had been donated to charity when the Washington Free Beacon broke the story in August. Morris has repeated those claims to other outlets when confronted with the donations. She refused to elaborate on the details of that donation, such as to which charity the donations were made, and has not responded to multiple emails and phone calls from the Free Beacon over the past two months.
A Washington Free Beacon analysis of Peters’ campaign disclosures shows no sign of any charitable donation. Such a donation would be considered "other disbursements" and filed under Line 21 of federal campaign finance reports, according to a spokeswoman from the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
The Peters campaign has reported $2,450 in Line 21 expenditures during his Senate run. All of that money was reported before Laho sent his first contribution to Peters—a $250 check in June 2013. Peters reported a single $250 donation to the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee in April 2013—the only new Line 21 item reported between April 2013 and September 30, 2014, the most recent data available. Laho made all of his contributions to Peters during that time.
The lack of disclosure does not necessarily prove the charitable donation was not made, according to Cleta Mitchell, a campaign finance attorney at Foley & Lardner. However, Mitchell said that the FEC rules concerning charitable donations and Line 21 items are clear and well-known among campaigns.
"I don't think it is common for campaigns to misreport this. It would show up on the disbursements and if it has not showed up, then it is not true," she said. "If the campaign has given to several charities in amounts that are unitemized, the total/aggregate amount should appear on the summary pages. Here, the contributions do not appear in either place. Unless the campaign produces copies of cancelled checks to document the contributions, we have to conclude that the campaign has not disgorged the funds to charity."
Mitchell said sometimes money is misreported as an operating expense, rather than a Line 21 item. It is also possible that the campaign donated the items in amounts less than $200, in which case it would not have to report them.
This explains why the FEC website shows $750 in Line 21 items even though only a single $250 donation is itemized. However, that total is still $500 below what Laho gave to the campaign.
Peters’ spokeswomen did not return requests for comment concerning the disparity between the FEC reports and her public statements concerning Laho’s contributions.
A Washington Free Beacon analysis of Peters’ operating expenditures failed to identify any potential charitable donations.
Laho’s associate, illegal immigrant restaurateur Tomo Duhanaj, was exposed as a loan shark during a federal raid in August 2012. Peters returned more than $7,000 in campaign donations he received from Duhanaj following his arrest. The FEC reports show that Peters has not issued any refund to Laho.
Laho issued five $250 donations to Peters’ Senate campaign in 2013 and 2014, while he challenged his felony convictions. The Democratic campaign has not received any additional contributions from Laho since a federal judge dismissed his appeals in July.
"The government presented sufficient evidence to support its argument that [Laho] was acting … to help Duhanaj hide and launder assets obtained through his loan sharking activities," the judge said. "This Court has determined that the jury’s guilty verdicts on … are supported by sufficient evidence."
Laho was sentenced to four years in prison on October 1, according to Bridge Magazine.
Michigan Republicans made Peters’ association with the loan shark ring the centerpiece of an attack ad in recent weeks. The media has lampooned the ad for its shoddy graphics and questioned its veracity, citing Peters’ as-yet-unproven claim that he donated the money.
Peters’ opponent, former Republican secretary of state Terri Lynn Land, blasted Peters for misleading the public and the press about his campaign finances. Land spokeswoman Heather Swift said the FEC reports point to a pattern of "lying" from Peters.
"This isn't the first time Gary Peters lied in order to get a couple votes. He told Michiganders they could keep their health insurance, knowing 225,000 would lose their health plans under ObamaCare. He told a moderate business group he supports border security, then told a pro-amnesty group he doesn't support more border security," Swift said. "Gary Peters will say absolutely anything to get elected. The only thing you can count on Gary Peters for is to be a rubber stamp for President Obama."