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German Given Record Fine in Campaign Donation Case

July 19, 1997|ROBERT L. JACKSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Federal election officials levied the largest fine ever assessed for an illegal campaign contribution by an individual, imposing the punishment Friday on a German national who gave more than $400,000 to state, local and national candidates in 1993 and 1994.

The fine of $323,000 was assessed against Thomas Kramer, a financier and developer who lives in Florida but is not a legal U.S. resident. The 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act bars foreign citizens, corporations or foreign countries from giving to political campaigns.

Kramer acknowledged that his contributions, made to both major political parties, were violations and has agreed to pay the penalty, FEC officials said.

The Republican Party of Florida, the largest recipient of Kramer's donations, was fined $82,000 by the bipartisan commission.

Other recipients, such as the Democratic National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), were given warning letters but no fines.

Kramer disguised the donations by putting them in the name of his secretary, a U.S. citizen, or other intermediaries, or by funneling them through his 17 companies in Florida, the FEC said.

Kramer said one Democrat who solicited contributions suggested he make a donation in the name of an American employee, according to the FEC's file on his case. The Democrat was not identified.

Kramer's office said he was out of the country Friday and unavailable for comment.

The FEC's disclosure of the fine came a day after the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee concluded a second week of hearings into the influence of foreign money on President Clinton's reelection campaign. Kramer was not believed to have contributed to that race.

Randy Enwright, executive director of the Florida GOP, said party fund-raisers did not realize Kramer was a foreign citizen when they accepted his donations.

The DNC received contributions of $25,000 and $40,000 from Kramer in 1993, the first coming at a fund-raising dinner honoring Vice President Al Gore, the commission said. Both donations have been returned to Kramer.

The DNC has returned about $3 million in foreign-tainted contributions from the 1996 election.

DNC spokesman Steve Langdon said the Democratic Party actually refunded a total of $125,000 to Kramer in 1994 after learning he was a foreigner.

Other 1993-94 contributions from Kramer have been refunded by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Mack and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R--Fla.), according to the FEC.

Kramer's attorney told FEC officials that no fund-raiser from either party ever inquired about his immigration status or refused funds from him because of his status as a foreign national, according to FEC files.

The Florida Republican Party originally returned just $5,000 of more than $200,000 from Kramer, contending the donations had been received in good faith, according to the Associated Press. But a year later the GOP returned $105,000 Kramer had given through one of his corporations, the AP said.

In a separate case, the FEC announced it has fined the DNC and Clinton's 1992 campaign committee $10,000 each for violations related to a DNC-sponsored televised town hall meeting with Clinton. The Republican National Committee had complained it was a violation of FEC regulations to broadcast an 800 number for making contributions.

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