This is a budding scandal. The front page of the Washington Post today profiles Harry Sargeant III, a bundler for John McCain who has a knack of getting big-dollar donations out of working-class people in the Inland Empire who’ve never made a political contribution in their lives.
The bundle of $2,300 and $4,600 checks that poured into Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign on March 12 came from an unlikely group of California donors: a mechanic from D&D Auto Repair in Whittier, the manager of Rite Aid Pharmacy No. 5727, the 30-something owners of the Twilight Hookah Lounge in Fullerton.
But the man who gathered checks from them is no stranger to McCain — he shuttled the Republican on his private plane and held a fundraising event for the candidate at his house in Delray Beach, Fla […]
Some of the most prolific givers in Sargeant’s network live in modest homes in Southern California’s Inland Empire. Most had never given a political contribution before being contacted by Sargeant or his associates. Most said they have never voiced much interest in politics. And in several instances, they had never registered to vote. And yet, records show, some families have ponied up as much as $18,400 for various candidates between December and March.
Both Sargeant and the donors were vague when asked to explain how Sargeant persuaded them to give away so much money.
This is extremely odd. Non-donors don’t just pop up and max out, especially when they don’t fit the profile of having $2,300 to spare. There’s at least the possibility here of straw donations, where these names are either picked out of the phone book and used as shells so big-money folks can deliver more than campaign finance limits to the candidate, or the contributors are willing participants who give and then get the money back (with a little extra for their trouble) from the same big-money boys.
Adding to the intrigue is that these donors declined to talk about the donations (at first denying they had made them) or who asked them to do so. Half these people aren’t registered to vote. And all of them appear to be Arab-American, a community with which Sargeant has unique contacts:
Sargeant’s business relationships, and the work they perform together, occur away from the public eye. His firm, International Oil Trading Co. (IOTC), holds several lucrative contracts with the Defense Department to carry fuel to the U.S. military in Iraq.
“It is very difficult and is a very logistically intensive business that we have been able to specialize in,” Sargeant said. “We do difficult logistical things that don’t necessarily suit a major oil company. It’s a niche we’ve been able to occupy.”
The work has not been without controversy. Last month, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) initiated a review of IOTC’s contract to determine whether it was overcharging the military for jet fuel, and to learn how the company, which did not submit the lowest bid, landed the contract to supply the fuel. The Pentagon has said that IOTC won the contract because it was the only company with a “letter of authorization” from the Jordanian government to move the fuel across its territory to Iraq.
Greg Sargent and Eric Kleefeld have more on this element of the story – Sargeant (no relation to the TPM writer) is apparently being sued by the brother-in-law of the King of Jordan.
This is a very shady tale and I’m guessing we haven’t heard the end of it. John McCain’s absentee leadership has led to serious violations of campaign finance law already – and this could be the worst yet.