The Federal Election Commission fined Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign $14,500 for accepting illegal in-kind overseas contributions from the Australian Labor Party during the 2016 elections.
The ruling stems from a February 2016, conservative activist group Project Veritas video showing Australian nationals working for the Sanders campaign on the dime of the Australian taxpayer-funded ALP.
Republican and former New Hampshire House speaker William O’Brien filed a complaint with the FEC shortly after Project Veritas made the footage people, alleging the ALP had made “illegal foreign contributions” to the Sanders campaign, based on WMUR.
The FEC levied the fine from the Sanders campaign in a Febuary 2016-issued conciliation agreement.
The ALP contacted the Sanders campaign according to the FEC and asked permission to permit Australian nationals to be inserted into the campaign as volunteers. The Sanders campaign accepted the ALP’s request, despite knowing the ALP will be paying Australians a daily stipend as well as covering the cost of their flights into the United States.
While volunteering with the Sanders campaign, the Australians engaged in political activities “including encouraging voter attendance at campaign events, recruiting volunteers, canvassing with volunteers, and planning events,” according to the FEC.
The Sanders campaign “treated the ALP delegates no differently from any other campaign out-of-town volunteers and was aware that they were receiving a stipend from the ALP,” the FEC added.
The ALP spent $16,140 for the Australians’ flights into the United States and $8,282 for their daily stipends. The FEC determined that amounted to a $24,422 “illegal in-kind foreign contribution” that the Sanders campaign accepted from the ALP.
A Sanders spokesperson said in a statement to WMUR the campaign does not believe it broke any rules.
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“Throughout the course of the campaign, thousands and thousands of young people from every state and a number of other countries volunteered. Among them were seven Australian young folks who were receiving a modest stipend and airfare from the Australian Labor Party so they could learn about American politics,” the spokesperson said.
“The people on the campaign managing volunteers did not think the stipend disqualified them from being volunteers.”
“In order to avoid a long and costly fight with the FEC over the technical status of these young people, the campaign agreed to cover the FEC a small settlement but didn’t agree that it broke any rules,” the Sanders spokesperson added.
O’Brien told WMUR Tuesday that he was “disappointed” that the FEC failed to make a link between ALP and the Australian authorities.
“I am disappointed that it is not comprehensive,” O’Brien said of the FEC’s ruling. “It doesn’t go into the Australian government funding. And I am disappointed that it does not go with increased specificity into the actual things that they had been doing. I’m disappointed they did not go to what was the impact on the campaign.”
“It’s basically the Australian authorities using the conduit of a socialist party to assist the socialist candidate in the United States,” O’Brien said.
The FEC’s ruling from the Sanders campaign follows the Feb. 16 indictment of 13 Russian nationals who interfered in the 2016 election in support of Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.
Sanders denied his campaign received support from Russians during an interview last week with Vermont Public Radio.
“They were supporting my campaign, no. They were attacking Hillary Clinton’s campaign and using my fans against Hillary Clinton,” Sanders said.
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