PUBLISHER’S COMMENTARY: The Rev. Al Sharpton robbed his aborted Presidential campaign’s war chest. The FBI has opened an investigation into fast-talking Al’s fast and loose campaign ethics. Sources say the bureau has him cold. But Sharpton is stealing a page from Tom DeLay’s playbook. When caught breaking the law, blame your opponents and say it’s all a giant conspiracy. But Sharpton getting caught with his hand in the till doesn’t surprise longtime watchers of the flamboyant preacher. You did the crime Al. Do the time.
The Rev. Al Sharpton said Tuesday that he complied with campaign finance laws while he was a presidential candidate, despite reports that federal authorities had opened a criminal probe of fundraising related to the campaign.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, citing unidentified sources, reported Monday that the FBI in New York had begun investigating Sharpton’s fundraising as a spinoff of an unrelated criminal probe involving city officials and businessmen in Philadelphia.
It did not specify the exact nature of the Sharpton probe, the existence of which was first reported in the Philadelphia Daily News on April 5.
“Nobody has come to me to ask about this report of funds and this is almost two years later,” Sharpton told The Associated Press.
The FBI declined to comment.
During the Philadelphia corruption investigation, local Democratic fundraiser Ronald A. White and Detroit businessman La-Van Hawkins reportedly were wiretapped having a conversation in which Hawkins expressed suspicions that Sharpton had failed to report money they had raised for his campaign.
Sharpton’s campaign reports, however, do list many checks collected by the pair, and Sharpton told the AP that “everything given was reported.”
According to the wiretaps, White and Hawkins were planning to raise enough in contributions for Sharpton to help him qualify for federal matching funds. To qualify, Sharpton needed to raise $5,000 in each of 20 states.
“The idea of getting matching funds is to show that you are raising money. It would have been a contradiction not to report the money,” Sharpton said.
Prosecutors have said Hawkins and White hoped Sharpton would introduce them to the man who controlled New York City’s pension fund, in the hopes that the fund would invest in one of their business ventures. Sharpton set up the meeting, but the pension fund did not invest in the venture.
Sharpton said no wrongdoing was committed in his business dealings with the men.
“They asked me to introduce them to several business officials,” Sharpton said in a telephone interview. “Networking is what leaders do; there is no crime to do that. The FBI found there is no wrongdoing in that.”
Hawkins is currently on trial in Philadelphia on charges of helping White to funnel a $10,000 payment to Philadelphia’s ex-treasurer Corey Kemp in an attempt to influence government contracts. White was indicted and died last November awaiting trial
Questions about finances have recurred throughout Sharpton’s career as an activist and leader of the Harlem-based National Action Network. He once pleaded guilty to not filing a state income tax return, and he has been cited by federal regulators in the past for mistakes in campaign reporting.