Momentum is building to free conservative former Congressman Steve Stockman from prison. The outspoken conservative activist was targeted by the Deep State after he stood up to the Obama administration, which included him calling for the arrest of Lois Lerner. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly misusing nonprofit funds for political purposes.
His attorneys filed an appeal last month. It was followed by an amicus curiae signed by 27 prominent conservatives, all of whom are affiliated with nonprofits themselves. The signers include Richard Viguerie, L. Brent Bozell III and Jenny Beth Martin. The amici are concerned with how the law was twisted to find illegal behavior in regards to the nonprofits Stockman was affiliated with. They wrote, “Under the theory of fraud used by the government, few if any charitable endeavors – particularly start-ups – could proceed.” Fundraising is protected by the First Amendment.
What happened was Stockman raised money for nonprofit organizations. The money went for educational endeavors, including the creation of a conservative youth political training effort and an informative mailer comparing Stockman’s positions to that of his opponent’s in a Senate race.
Prosecutors claimed that since the money for the youth political training activity didn’t go to the precise aspect of purchasing a training building, it constituted fraud. Similarly, prosecutors claimed that because all of the money for the campaign mailer didn’t precisely go to the postage – since not as many mailers ended up being sent out as planned – it was fraud.
But the donors knew what the money was going to generally, and they were fine with it. Essentially the standards used by the prosecution “punished normal logistics, lawful strategies, or failure as fraud.” The funds were raised legally and without fraud. It’s common in mass mailings to end up sending out fewer pieces of mail than intended. The prosecution would make “criminal acts out of standard, everyday occurrences in direct mail, and the fundraising and financing attendant to it.”
Prosecutors also claimed that the campaign mailer comparing Stockman’s positions with that of his Senate opponent constituted “express advocacy,” which is prohibited for coordinating with 501(c)(4)s. But the courts in the Fifth Circuit have been very clear on this issue; you need words like “vote for” or “elect” related to a specific candidate in order to constitute express advocacy. The mailers contained none of that language. But prosecutors convinced the judge to present the jury with an incorrect definition of express advocacy in jury instructions.
The amicus curiae brief said that prosecutors “confused the standard of what constitutes fraud in the solicitation of donations for tax-exempt causes, confused the law applicable to what is allowable political speech and press rights exercised by tax-exempt organizations, and misstated the law governing ‘express advocacy’ that forms the basis of ‘independent expenditures’ made in the context of federal campaign finance law.”
Stockman was bizarrely not allowed to refer to Lois Lerner during the trial, which violated his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. Lerner is a suspected critic of the 2010 Citizens United opinion confirming First Amendment rights of 501(c)(4) organizations to engage in independent expenditures. Everyone knows how she targeted conservative nonprofits. Jurors should have been allowed to hear the defense’s theory that she was involved in orchestration of the prosecution as retaliation.
The 10-year prison sentence was excessive. The amicus curiae notes that William Aramony, the late former CEO of United Way, only received seven years in prison for fraudulently diverting $1.2 million of the charity’s money to pay for a romance with a teenage girlfriend and other benefits for himself and friends. Unlike Stockman, he was guilty, and guilty of a far worse diversion of funds.
Stockman’s supporters wrote that it “is especially concerning to many of these amici who, from time to time, may be high-profile, outspoken critics of government officials and politicians, as was Stockman.” Stockman’s conviction will have a chilling effect on nonprofits trying to raise and spend money.
Based on the horrendous errors that took place by the prosecution, which were sadly rubber-stamped by the judge, Stockman should be able to get his conviction reversed. Otherwise it sets a terrifying precedent for conservatives in the nonprofit arena.