The Federal Election Commission (FEC) fined Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign $14,500 for accepting illegal in-kind foreign contributions from the Australian Labor Party (ALP) during the 2016 elections.
The ruling stems from a February 2016, conservative activist group Project Veritas video showing Australian nationals working for the Sanders campaign on the dime of the Australian taxpayer funded ALP.
Republican and former New Hampshire House speaker William O’Brien filed a complaint with the FEC shortly after Project Veritas made the footage public, alleging the ALP had made “prohibited foreign contributions” to the Sanders campaign, according to WMUR.
The FEC levied the fine against the Sanders campaign in a Feb. 2016-issued conciliation agreement.
The ALP contacted the Sanders campaign according to the FEC and asked permission to allow Australian nationals to be inserted into the campaign as volunteers. The Sanders campaign accepted the ALP’s request, despite knowing the ALP would be paying Australians a daily stipend in addition to covering the cost of their flights to the United States.
While volunteering with the Sanders campaign, the Australians engaged in political activities “including encouraging voter attendance at campaign events, recruiting volunteers, canvassing with volunteers, and planning events,” according to the FEC.
The Sanders campaign “treated the ALP delegates no differently from any other campaign out-of-town volunteers and was aware that they were receiving a stipend from the ALP,” the FEC added.
The ALP spent $16,140 for the Australians’ flights to the United States and $8,282 for their daily stipends. The FEC determined that amounted to a $24,422 “prohibited in-kind foreign contribution” the Sanders campaign accepted from the ALP.
A Sanders spokesperson said in a statement to WMUR that the campaign doesn’t think it broke any rules.
“During the course of the campaign, thousands and thousands of young people from every state and many other countries volunteered. Among them were seven Australian young people who were receiving a modest stipend and airfare from the Australian Labor Party so they could learn about American politics,” the spokesperson said. “The folks on the campaign managing volunteers did not believe the stipend disqualified them from being volunteers.”
“In order to avoid a long and expensive fight with the FEC over the technical status of these young people, the campaign agreed to pay the FEC a small settlement but did not agree that it broke any rules,” the Sanders spokesperson added.
O’Brien told WMUR Tuesday he was “disappointed” the FEC did not make a connection between ALP and the Australian government.
“I’m disappointed that it’s not comprehensive,” O’Brien said of the FEC’s ruling. “It doesn’t go into the Australian government funding. And I’m disappointed that it doesn’t go with greater specificity into the actual things that they were doing. I’m disappointed that they didn’t go to what was the effect on the campaign.”
“It’s basically the Australian government using the conduit of a socialist party to assist the socialist candidate in the United States,” O’Brien said.
The FEC’s ruling against the Sanders campaign follows the Feb. 16 indictment of 13 Russian nationals who interfered in the 2016 election in support of Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.
Sanders denied his campaign received support from Russians during an interview last week with Vermont Public Radio.
“They were supporting my campaign, no. They were attacking Hillary Clinton’s campaign and using my supporters against Hillary Clinton,” Sanders said.