Obama, Tester to Give Felon’s Donations to Charity

By Beacon Staff

BIG ARM – The Obama campaign and a Democratic U.S. senator from Montana say they are giving to charity money they received from a Big Arm man who pleaded guilty to felony charges following a federal corruption probe in Alaska.

Federal prosecutors say William C. Weimar funneled money to a consultant for an unnamed state Senate candidate for the candidate’s support for a private prison project.

Weimar, who once owned Alaska’s only network of privately run halfway houses, pleaded guilty in August to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and to “structuring financial transactions.” Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 12 in federal court in Anchorage, Alaska.

The charges stemmed from the same investigation that led to this week’s conviction of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. A federal court jury found Stevens guilty of seven counts of lying on Senate disclosure forms to conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from a wealthy businessman.

According to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C., Weimar, 68, has contributed more than $7,000 to Democratic political campaigns since moving from Alaska to the west shore of Flathead Lake.

His biggest beneficiary, receiving $4,600, was Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. The Obama campaign had already returned $3,600 from Weimar because it exceeded the federal limit for contributions from an individual, the nonpartisan center said.

On Thursday, a spokesman for Obama’s Montana campaign said the other $4,600 would be donated to charity.

“It happens that he donated long before he pled guilty, and subsequent to that, we decided to donate it all to charity,” Caleb Weaver said. “We certainly had no idea at the time the donation was made, and once we found out, the decision was made.”

The same records show Weimar gave $2,100 to the campaign of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in 2006, and $250 each to the congressional campaigns of Democrats Monica Lindeen in 2006 and Jim Hunt in 2008.

The contributions were all properly reported and made before Weimar was indicted.

“Mr. Weimar contributed two years ago, and pleaded guilty to a crime two weeks ago,” Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy said Thursday. “We wish we had a crystal ball to see into the future, but we don’t.”

Murphy said Tester has never met Weimar but plans to donate to charity the $2,100 Weimar contributed to his campaign.

Lindeen and Hunt also said they did not know Weimar, and both said their congressional campaign accounts have long been closed.

Lindeen, now running for state auditor, said she would consider her options regarding Weimar’s donation, including writing a personal check to charity.

Hunt, who lost in the June primary, said he would look into Weimar’s contribution and return the money “if there’s any problem with it.”

Montana Democratic Party spokesman Kevin O’Brien said Democrats aren’t the only ones who received contributions from people associated with corruption in Alaska politics.

He said U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., received $1,000 from Alaska contractor Bill Allen and $700 from Jim Clark, a one-time aide to former Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski. Allen and Clark both pleaded guilty to felony charges in the widespread investigation of corruption in Alaska politics.

Bridger Pierce, a spokesman for the Montana Republican Party, said the money from Allen was donated to Rehberg campaign’s during his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 1996. Clark contributed $500 to that campaign, and $200 to Rehberg’s successful run for Congress in 2000.

Pierce said Rehberg’s ’96 Senate campaign account was closed years ago, but that Rehberg would give to charity the $200 Clark donated to his 2000 congressional race.

Allen also gave $2,000 in 2005 to the re-election campaign of Republican U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, who was defeated by Tester.