WASHINGTON — Millionaire businessmen Donald Trump, Henry R. Kravis, Harold C. Simmons and Ronald O. Perelman and six other wealthy Americans have admitted to violating the legal limits on campaign contributions and have agreed to pay fines totaling $64,000, the Federal Election Commission announced Wednesday.
The fines stem from a three-year FEC inquiry conducted in response to a computer-assisted investigation by The Times, which found evidence that a law prohibiting individuals from contributing more than $25,000 in any calendar year had been violated.
In addition to Trump, Kravis, Simmons and Perelman, fines were levied against Dwayne O. Andreas, chairman of Archer Daniels Midland Corp.; Andreas' wife, Dorothy; Caroline Rose Hunt, heir to a Texas oil fortune; Kravis' father, Oklahoma oilman Raymond Kravis; Ira Riklis, son of California businessman Meshulam Riklis, and San Diego attorney William S. Lerach.
In recent years, the FEC has been widely criticized for failing to enforce the contribution limits, which were enacted by Congress in the wake of the Watergate scandal to curb the political influence of the nation's richest citizens.
While the fines levied in these cases were relatively modest--ranging from $19,800 for Simmons to $800 for Hunt--they represent a major development in the enforcement history of the FEC. The agency has acknowledged that it does not independently monitor compliance with the limits.
"The message from this case is that the FEC does enforce contribution limits," FEC Chairman Scott Thomas said in a statement. "Those making political contributions should be knowledgeable of the limits enacted by Congress."
Fred Wertheimer, president of the citizens' group Common Cause, had urged the FEC to investigate The Times' story and said Wednesday that the fines prove that the campaign contribution limits "can no longer be violated with impunity." He called on the commission to search its own records for violators, as The Times did.
In all cases, the contributors who were fined offered one of three explanations for their actions: They did not understand the technicalities of the law, or they mistakenly thought they could make up to $50,000 in contributions in conjunction with their spouses, or they were under a false impression that some of their contributions were so-called "soft money" donations, which are not restricted under federal law.
All of the violations occurred in 1988, 1989 and 1990 and involved contributions made to congressional and presidential candidates as well as to the Republican and Democratic parties. Five of the contributors not only violated the $25,000 annual limit but also gave contributions in excess of the limit of $2,000 to a single candidate.
Even though Trump exceeded the limits more than any other contributor, according to FEC officials, he was the last of the 10 cited by the commission who agreed to pay a fine.
The FEC listed these violations and fines:
--Trump exceeded the limit by $47,050 in 1988 and agreed to pay a $15,000 fine. He told the FEC that his lawyers had inaccurately explained the law to him. Further, he said he had made some effort to obtain refunds from some candidates before intervention by the FEC.
--Simmons exceeded the annual limit by $44,926 in 1988 and $1,250 in 1989 and was fined $19,800. Although he obtained $20,000 in refunds after the investigation began, the FEC ruled that the refunds were not timely.
--Andreas, a mainstay Republican contributor, exceeded the limit by $13,680 and his wife exceeded the limit by $4,680 in 1988. They agreed to pay a fine of $8,000.
--Henry Kravis, head of Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts, exceeded the limit by $36,961 in 1988 and agreed to pay a fine of $8,000. His father, who is 90 years old, exceeded the annual limit by $6,250 and agreed to pay a fine of $1,000.
--Lerach exceeded the annual limit by $26,232 in 1990 and also exceeded the limit to individual candidates by $2,000. He agreed to pay a fine of $7,100. He told the FEC that he was under the impression he could give twice as much if he considered them joint contributions with his wife.
--Hunt exceeded the annual limit by $3,150 and agreed to pay a fine of $800. Her lawyers told the FEC that she thought at least one large contribution to the Republican Party was to a soft-money fund and could not be not counted against the annual limit.
--Ira Riklis exceeded the annual limit by $6,500 and the limit to specific candidates by $3,000. He agreed to pay a $2,500 fine. Like others, he said that he thought one of his largest contributions was to a soft money fund.
During its investigation, the FEC cleared Riklis' father, who also was named in a Times story. The commission indicated that it found Meshulam Riklis had violated the annual limit by $1,000 in 1988 but decided not to take action against him because the amount was so small.
The FEC said it opened the investigation two days after The Times published its first story in April, 1990. Although The Times published a second story in September, 1991, citing more than 60 more potential violators, FEC officials declined to say whether they are investigating those cases.