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Report: Rosie O'Donnell may have violated campaign finance laws

FILE - In this April 23, 2018 photo Rosie O'Donnell arrives at opening night for Summer: The Donna Summer Musical at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in New York City. (Credit: Joseph Marzullo/WENN.com)

Comedian and actress Rosie O'Donnell has made no attempt to hide her contempt for President Donald Trump in celebrity feud that goes back more than a decade. She has also been a vocal supporter of Democratic candidates and causes in dozens of federal races around the country.

According to a report in The New York Post, Rosie O'Donnell may have gone overboard with her support. The Post reported O'Donnell possibly violated Federal Election Commission (FEC) campaign finance laws on five separate occasions, amounting to $5,400 in excess campaign contributions to Democratic candidates.

The comedian was unapologetic in an email response to the Post, saying there was "nothing nefarious" about the contributions in excess of the FEC's $2,700 individual maximum. "I was not choosing to over donate," she explained. "My anxiety is quelled by donating to those opposing trump [and] his agenda — especially at night — when most of these were placed."

According to FEC filings obtained by the Post, O'Donnell gave more than $90,000 to 50 different candidates and organizations in the 2017 to 2018 election cycle, largely using the liberal fundraising website, ActBlue. Those contributions included overpaying five candidates and using fake names and addresses to make the donations.

The comedian claimed she doesn't keep track of her many contributions. "I just donate assuming they do not accept what is over the limit," she told the Post, adding if she exceeded the legal maximum, candidates "should refund the money."

ActBlue did not return a request for comments on preventing excessive political contributions. The website says its contribution forms are "pre-set" to accommodate FEC limits on donations.

After the report surfaced questioning her excessive campaign donations, Rosie O'Donnell tweeted about contributions to another dozen candidates and organizations. She again denied any wrongdoing and set her sites on $100,000 in political contributions through ActBlue.

"[A]s a salute to the ny post writer - who found sinister ways to warp the truth - i will click away tonight - so i can hit 100,000," O'Donnell wrote.

According to Brendan Fischer, director of the FEC reform program at the Campaign Legal Center, the over-payments are likely "reporting errors" that can be remedied by the campaign committees.

Under FEC rules, campaigns can either refund excess donations or redesignate money toward a different campaign, for example, shifting money for a primary to a general election. Fischer explained it is "fairly common practice" for donors to contribute more than the $2,700 maximum, especially during primary season.

Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb, who won the Pennsylvania special election in March, received $900 over the legal limit from Rosie O'Donnell. The campaign reportedly said it would inform O'Donnell of her mistake and offer her the option of redesignating the funds for Lamb's November race. Similarly, Omar Vaid, who ran in New York's 11th Congressional District primary, received $750 over the FEC max and told the Post the excess contribution was essentially a reporting error.

"If a person is going to donating a lot of money to a number of candidates they should take care that they're not going to exceed contribution limits," Fischer advised, noting the FEC is typically very good at catching excess contributions. "If there's a pattern of a campaign committee accepting a significant number of excessive contributions or a donor number of excessive contributions, then the FEC may seek some sort of penalties."

While O'Donnell claimed nothing "sinister" or "nefarious" about her contributions, her alleged use of five different New York addresses and four variations of her name to make the contributions has raised eyebrows.

"It's not an ideal situation" for O'Donnell, Fischer noted but said it is "not uncommon" to see slight variations in a donor's legal name.

Conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza, who was charged with campaign finance violations under the Obama administration, argued O'Donnell should face the full extent of the law.

According to D'Souza, O'Donnell's contributions were "an egregious violation" of FEC regulations. "What makes it particularly sneaky on her part is that she used four different names and five different addresses," he said in a Monday interview with Fox & Friends. "So it seems clear that she knew what she was doing and she was trying to cover her tracks."

In 2014, D'Souza was sentenced to five years of probation and 8 months in a community confinement center for donating $20,000 to his longtime friend and Republican candidate Wendy Long, who was running for the U.S. Senate seat in New York. He received a felony conviction for attempting to illegally contribute over $10,000 to Long's Senate campaign.

D'Souza argued his conviction was "a political hit" by Obama's Justice Department in response to a documentary he produced about President Barack Obama. "What's going to happen to Rosie is going to be a very interesting question of political equity," D'Souza said.

Founder of the conservative students' movement Turning Point USA, Charlie Kirk compared D'Souza's campaign finance conviction with Rosie O'Donnell's alleged violation. "So @DineshDSouza reimburses a friend for a campaign contribution and got jail time Will Rosie O’Donnell go to prison for breaking federal campaign law 5 times and exceeding contribution limits?"

Trump supporters took to social media and trolled the comedian with the hashtags like #Rosie4Jail and #RosieOdonnellCampaignFinanceViolations. "If you didn't "knowingly" exceed donation limits, then why did you feel the need to use several (4) variations of your name and 5 different addresses?" asked one user.

"Federal filings show that Rosie O’Donnell used several different addresses and names, exceeding campaign contribution limits 5 times," another user commented. "So it looks like Rosie is now facing jail time... that is, unless everyone is not equal under the law in this country."

O'Donnell and the campaigns she overpaid still have time to fix the issues before "facing jail time."

The FEC typically sends a letter to the campaign that received the excessive donation demanding the money be refunded or redesignated, Fischer said. Both the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns received those letters in 2016. If the campaign refuses to remedy the problem or the donor continues to violate the campaign limits, it could be cause for further action.

This isn't the first time Trump supporters have called on Trump to prosecute his longtime Hollywood rival. In Dec. 2017, O'Donnell tweeted an offer of "2 million dollars ... cash each" to Republican Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine to vote against Trump's tax reform bill. O'Donnell then reportedly tried to contact Sen. Collins directly via Twitter to "negotiate" the $2 million offer.

Conservatives and Trump supporters claimed O'Donnell's tweet amounted to attempted bribery and she should face prison and a hefty fine. Ultimately, the case was not taken up. One obvious reason, the comedian's public offer of cash was largely interpreted as a joke.

If O'Donnell is investigated for campaign finance violations, it would reignite the epic, decade-long feud between the president and the former talk show host. The war began in 2006 when O'Donnell lashed out at Trump on ABC's "The View," calling the then co-owner of the Miss USA pageant "a snake-oil salesman" and poking fun at his multiple bankruptcies and failed marriages.

The grudge blossomed over time. Trump threatened to sue O'Donnell for defamation and "take some money out of her fat--- pockets." Over the years he referred to O'Donnell as "a loser," "disgusting," "fat," and celebrated the failure of O'Donnell's television show, magazine and other projects. Whether the made-for-TV rivalry will turn into a serious case against the Democratic donor remains to be seen.

Somewhat ironically, President Donald Trump is also facing allegations of campaign finance violations. Legal experts have claimed the $130,000 Trump repaid his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to keep porn star Stormy Daniels quiet about an alleged 2006 affair with Trump constituted a campaign donation. Trump and his legal team deny the allegations and claim there were no campaign finance violations.


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