Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza was indicted on charges of violating federal campaign finance laws, but the circumstances raise some questions. The FBI and the Justice Department would not comment on what specific election and candidates were involved, but records obtained from the Federal Election Commission indicate that D’Souza has only ever donated to a single political candidate, Wendy Long.
Ms. Long was running as a Republican for senator from the state of New York against Democratic incumbent Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Long was a long-shot candidate and lost in a landslide to Sen. Gillibrand. D’Souza is accused of asking various donors to make contributions to Long’s campaign and then he would reimburse those donors. These contributions totaled $20,000. This would essentially allow him to bypass the $2,500 limit on individual contributions at that time.
The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office released a statement declaring that there is a “zero tolerance” when it comes to impropriety in the electoral process. D’Souza and his attorney responded by denying any sort of criminal wrongdoing. They acknowledged that D’Souza and Long had known each other since attending university together and that the circumstances of the indictment were nothing more than “an act of misguided friendship.” While the legal process in this case has only begun, the indictment of Dinesh D’Souza raises questions.
D’Souza is perhaps best known for producing the controversial documentary 2016: Obama’s America. This film went on to become the second most successful political documentary ever, trailing only Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 in terms of revenue. This documentary painted President Barack Obama in a very unflattering light, building on the allegations D’Souza made in his 2010 book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage. The core of D’Souza’s argument is that due to circumstances in his childhood and family life, Obama essentially “hates” America and the end result of his policies will be to “remake” the country in Obama’s preferred image.
Gerald Molen, who co-produced 2016 with D’Souza called the indictment a “selective prosecution,” implying that it is an act of political retaliation against D’Souza for the documentary and his books. Conservative commentator and media critic Matt Drudge also released a statement on Twitter accusing Attorney General Eric Holder of “unleashing the hounds” against Obama’s critics. These two comments capture much of the sentiment that the indictment against D’Souza is politically motivated.
The indictment comes on the heels of the long-running controversy surrounding the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allegedly targeting Tea Party oriented groups with heightened scrutiny. This ongoing investigation, and the allegations of political motivations in the actions of the IRS, has already provided conservative critics of the Obama Administration with the belief that Obama is using government resources to attack his political enemies. This allows them to draw a connection to D’Souza and claim that this is just another politically motivated prosecution.
The use of government for political attacks has been a hot topic on both sides of the political spectrum in recent months. While conservatives have the IRS scandal to point to, liberals have leveled similar accusations against New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in recent weeks. The various allegations against Gov. Christie all revolve around the use of government resources to either attack political foes or enhance his political position.
The D’Souza indictment would appear to continue to drive this argument forward. On the one hand, any potential violation of the law should be investigated and prosecuted. On the other, it would appear curious to prosecute a noted filmmaker and critic of Obama for involvement in an essentially meaningless political contest. When placed in the context of the ongoing IRS situation, the indictment becomes even more puzzling.
As the legal process continues to play out, pundits on both sides of the political spectrum will attempt to use it to their advantage. Conservatives will use many of the arguments above, accusing the Obama Justice Department of political retaliation. Liberals will emphasize the need for integrity of the electoral process and to uphold that process by prosecuting offenders. Regardless of the point of view, the indictment of Dinesh D’Souza raises questions.
Editorial by Christopher V. Spencer