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Obama gives away tainted campaign contribution

His campaign fund donates $4,600, received from indicted businessman R. Allen Stanford, to a Chicago charity. The president is one of a long list of politicians to receive funds from Stanford.

February 19, 2009|Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten

WASHINGTON — President Obama's campaign fund moved Wednesday to distance him from the burgeoning scandal involving Texas businessman R. Allen Stanford, donating the value of Stanford's $4,600 campaign contribution to a Chicago charity.

Obama was one of a long list of Washington politicians and political committees that took money from Stanford, whose massive investment business was ordered seized this week as he was investigated for what the Securities and Exchange Commission called a "massive, ongoing fraud."

Other recipients, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), also promised Wednesday to return the funds or donate them to charity.

Stanford had not been found by late Wednesday, but he had been a fixture in the Washington political establishment -- and a generous contributor to both Democrats and Republicans.

Before the business turned sour, the Stanford Financial Group played the high-priced strategy of covering all bets in Washington, giving generously to politicians and their favorite causes, and the lobbyists who could influence them.

For example, the firm spent $4.8 million on lobbying since 2000. And employees donated $2.4 million to federal candidates and parties during that period, with 65% of that total going to Democrats.

The campaign and lobbying data, compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group, show that the firm's staff gave not only to Obama but to his opponent in the 2008 presidential race, McCain.

The $28,150 that McCain collected since 2000 placed him third among recipients of donations from Stanford and his firm, according to the center.

The other top recipients of donations include Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson ($45,900) and Republican Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas ($41,375). Nelson, too, promised Wednesday to donate his donations to charity.

In addition to giving to individual politicians, the center's records show that the Stanford Group gave $800,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee during the year Nelson was vice chairman. The donation was made in 2002, the same year Congress considered anti-fraud legislation that the firm lobbied against.

Stanford spread his money around, not only between the two major political parties, but among nonprofit organizations favored by politicians. For example, the firm's website touts its sponsorship of the Freedom Awards given annually by a civil rights museum. Among the recent award winners: former President Clinton.

ABC News reported Wednesday night that Stanford was publicly thanked by Clinton at an event held during the Democratic National Convention in Denver last year. The event, an annual "leadership forum" sponsored by the National Democratic Institute, honors former party leaders and up-and-coming leaders from around the globe.

The SEC on Tuesday charged Stanford and two other principals of his company in a complaint alleging massive fraud. Bloomberg News reported that FBI agents are investigating the allegations.

The firm's lobbying and campaign contributions began at the start of the Clinton administration as federal efforts to combat money laundering were stepped up. The firm lobbied in 2002 against one of the proposed laws to tighten fraud and began hiring a fleet of well-connected lobbyists.

During that time the company also gave to political committees helping then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). A smaller amount went to the Senate's then-Republican leader, Trent Lott.

An Obama aide said Wednesday that "in light of events," the campaign fund, called Obama for America, had donated $4,600 to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

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peter.wallsten@latimes.com

tom.hamburger@latimes.com

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