An analysis by the Associated Press of campaign finance records and court documents determined that Barack Obama’s 2012 inauguration received hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal donations from a Saudi national via a straw donor.
U.S. election law prohibits foreign nationals from making those sorts of political contributions. But the donations Sheikh Mohammed Al Rahbani tried to send to Obama’s inaugural committee were funneled through a seasoned straw donor, the records and the AP analysis show.
That intermediary, Imaad Zuberi, agreed this month to plead guilty to making illegal campaign contributions to several American political candidates on behalf of foreign nationals. He is also set to plead guilty to concealing his work as a foreign agent as he lobbied high-level U.S. government officials.
The prosecution by the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles is the latest in a string of cases that highlight the prevalence of banned foreign money in American politics and the often lax approach campaigns take in vetting contributions.
Zuberi was also a top fundraiser for Obama and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns, serving on both of their campaign finance committees, before switching support to Trump after his 2016 victory. Zuberi and his family have donated to both Democrat and Republican national committees and candidates, raising questions about how donations are vetted even when they unaware of the illicit nature of donations.
Some donations reported by political campaigns were made in Rahbani’s and others’ names but were paid for with credit cards belonging to Zuberi or his wife, prosecutors said.
Requests for comment were sent to representatives for Graham, Clinton and Engel.
Steve Kerrigan, CEO of Obama’s 2013 inauguration committee, said it had a very thorough vetting process that included requiring donors to certify that their contributions complied with the law. He declined to comment further on the specifics of Zuberi’s donations.
As a middleman, Zuberi was deeply flawed.
Zuberi, 49, admitted in a plea agreement that only $97,500 of the $850,000 that he was supposed to deliver to the Obama inaugural committee on Rahbani’s behalf actually made it into the committee’s hands. The rest, he skimmed for himself.
Rahbani declined to comment through an assistant. Zuberi’s attorneys and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles all declined to comment.
It’s lucky for Barack Obama this came out nearly three years after he left office, isn’t it?