A Saudi Sheikh and air conditioning magnate made a massive, illegal political contribution to Barack Obama's inaugural committee in 2012, which was funneled through a prolific (and recently busted) DC straw donor who has operated on both sides of the aisle for years.
According to court documents and an analysis of campaign finance records by The Associated Press, Sheikh Mohammed Al Rahbani attempted to send $850,000 to Obama's committee - which included a picture with Obama. Of that, straw donor Imaad Zuberi recently pleaded guilty to stealing $752,000. He also admitted to concealing his work as a foreign agent.
Zuberi - a top fundraiser for both Obama and Hillary Clinton during their presidential campaigns, marks "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," writes AP.
The criminal case against Zuberi doesn’t explain why Rahbani would have wanted to contribute to American political campaigns.
His company SAFID — a manufacturer of air conditioning-related products — is active throughout the Middle East and says on its website that it has worked on projects financed by the Saudi government.
Rahbani, in a few past interviews, has talked about his support of Obama. He posted pictures on his website of himself and his wife standing with Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and their spouses at a 2013 inaugural event. The website was taken down shortly after Zuberi’s plea was made public. -The Associated Press
Donations funneled through Zuberi include those to Sen. Lindsey Graham, President Trump's 2016 inaugural committee, and Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Graham gave some of those donations in 2017.
After President Trump's 2016 victory, Zuberi immediately put on a MAGA hat, pumping "nearly $1 million" into Trump's inaugural committee from unknown sources.
Zuberi has also been under scrutiny by federal prosecutors in New York after he donated $900,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee and $100,000 to a Republican campaign committee. Those donations occurred around the time Zuberi accompanied Qatar’s foreign minister to a meeting at Trump Tower.
Trump’s inaugural committee has not been accused of wrongdoing in connection with the money it received from Zuberi. It says it has cooperated with the federal inquiry. -The Associated Press
According to FEC records, Zuberi and his family made hundreds of donations to Republicans and Democrats across the political spectrum - often going to influential or outspoken lawmakers, such as Graham and Engel.
One campaign, not identified by name, accepted donations made in the name of one of Zuberi’s dead relatives, prosecutors said. Another political committee took donations from a person Zuberi invented.
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.
Zuberi has also been under scrutiny by federal prosecutors in New York after he donated $900,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee and $100,000 to a Republican campaign committee. Those donations occurred around the time Zuberi accompanied Qatar’s foreign minister to a meeting at Trump Tower. -The Associated Press
AP draws a parallel between the Zuberi case and two associates of Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who have been charged with making unlawful campaign contributions to US candidates and committees - including a $325,000 contribution to a group which supports Trump's reelection, at a time when they were lobbying US lawmakers for the ouster of the US ambassador to Ukraine.
And in April, "a Washington political consultant was sentenced to three years of probation after admitting he made a $50,000 straw donation on behalf of a wealthy Ukrainian client who wanted tickets to Trump’s inauguration," according to the report.
"I’m deeply concerned about foreigners trying to intervene in our elections, and I don’t think we’re doing enough to try to stop it," said FEC chairwomn Ellen Weintraub. "They don’t get a say in who we elect — or at least they’re not supposed to."