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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Biden fined for over-the-limit contributions as well as for sloppy record-keeping.

The Federal Election Commission has penalized Vice President Joe Biden’s 2008 presidential campaign $219,000 for accepting over-the-limit contributions and a deeply discounted flight on a private jet owned by an embattled New York hedge fund, as well as for sloppy record-keeping.

Biden’s campaign has indicated to the FEC that it will pay the penalty to the U.S. Treasury to resolve the campaign finance compliance issues, which were revealed in an audit report released Friday by the commission.

Elizabeth Alexander, a spokeswoman for Biden in the vice president’s office, called the FEC-ordered repayment “relatively small,” and said "some repayment is commonplace after presidential campaign audits.”

Biden was subject to the audit as a condition of accepting taxpayer funds for his campaign through the presidential public financing system. In all, Biden, who dropped out of the race after coming in fifth in the Iowa caucuses and was tapped eight months later to be Barack Obama’s running mate, received $857,000 in taxpayer money for his presidential campaign (including thousands of dollars after he was elected vice president) which raised $8.2 million from individual contributions, according to the report.

It found that the campaign accepted an illegal corporate contribution in the form of a round-trip flight between New Hampshire and Iowa in June 2007 for three people (it does not indicate if Biden, then a Senator from Delaware, was among the passengers) on a private jet owned by GEH Air Transportation, LLC. Federal Aviation Administration records show that GEH Air Transportation is owned by the Clinton Group, a New York hedge fund controlled by George E. Hall.

Biden for President (BFP) reimbursed GEH Air Transportation, LLC $7,911 for the flight –the estimated cost of first-class airfare for three on a comparable commercial flight. But the FEC determined that the flight should have been reimbursed at a charter rate of $34,800.

FEC auditors concluded that “By failing to pay a charter rate, BFP received an in-kind contribution of $26,889 (the $34,800 owed less the $7,911 paid) from GEH,” which would be illegal, since corporations are barred from contributing to federal campaigns. Biden’s representatives “indicated that they agreed with the finding and would write a check for $26,889 to the U.S. Treasury,” the auditors wrote.

Neither Biden’s spokeswoman Alexander, nor Biden’s campaign lawyer or treasurer could immediately answer questions about Biden’s relationship with Hall or whether Biden was on Hall’s corporate plane during the flight in question.

A major Democratic donor who has contributed more than $180,000 to Democratic candidates and causes since 1999 (including $19,000 to Biden’s various committees), Hall’s firm has been implicated – but not charged – by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in a New York state pension fund kickback investigation into a joint venture that paid the Clinton Group $750 million in state funds. (continues here)

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