State elections officials have proposed fining the Democratic Party of Oregon $35,000 after the party changed the donor of a hefty campaign check after the filing deadline.
Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s office said Thursday that it was seeking the fine following a roughly three-month investigation into the donation, which was made by an executive at disgraced cryptocurrency exchange FTX.
The state Democratic Party plans to contest the proposed fine, Executive Director Brad Martin said Thursday.
The penalty has roots in a $500,000 donation that landed at the DPO on Oct. 4 of last year. The contribution was made under the name of Prime Trust, a Las Vegas-based cryptocurrency startup. But after questions from The Oregonian/OregonLive, Democratic Party officials said they learned the money actually came from Nishad Singh, director of engineering at FTX. The party altered its filing with state elections officials to reflect that information.
That set off an investigation into whether Singh submitted the donation under a false name, and whether Democratic Party officials knowingly accepted it under those pretenses. Either act would be a class C felony, and the investigation remains open, according to Secretary of State’s spokesman Ben Morris.
But elections officials have now determined that the DPO was guilty of a lesser infraction. Because it amended the $500,000 contribution to reflect that the money came from Singh, not Prime Trust, past statutory deadlines, the party faces a penalty for filing the contribution late.
“The deadline for reporting the transaction was 10/11/2022,” Morris said in an email. “The filing to change the name of the contributor was not filed until 10/31/2022.”
Under state law, the penalty for the infraction is equal to 0.5% percent of the contribution – $2,500 – multiplied by the number of business days the filing was late by, which was 14.
Elections officials are proposing a fine for the Democratic Party of $35,035.54, which includes the late filing of a separate, far smaller contribution around the same time period. The fine is among the largest ever proposed by the state Elections Division, Morris said.
In response to questions, the party sent along a message its attorney, Dayna Underhill, gave to elections officials on Thursday afternoon.
“The Party plans to contest the proposed penalty…” it said. “The Party’s amendment was solely caused and made necessary by Nishad Singh’s false representations to the Party concerning the source of the contribution. We understand from press reports that the Secretary of State is currently investigating Singh for falsely representing the source of his contribution to the Party.”
Because of Singh’s deception, the message continued, the proposed fine is “inappropriate and should not be issued.” At a minimum, any proceedings regarding this proposed penalty should be held in abeyance until the investigations are complete.”
Fagan and her top elections officer, Molly Woon, have faced skepticism from some Republicans about how seriously they would take the Democratic Party inquiry. Both women are Democrats with close institutional ties to the party.
In a statement Thursday, however, Fagan said “no one should be surprised” by the proposed penalty.
“I promised Oregonians that I would do this job impartially and apply the rules fairly to everyone,” she said. “That’s exactly what I have done and will continue to do.”
Woon also put out a statement, saying: “Oregon law is very clear on how fines are incurred for late campaign finance filings. Despite limited staff resources, our campaign finance team processes thousands of late filing fees a year with professionalism and consistency.”
FTX, the exchange Singh worked for, has imploded amid charges its founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, defrauded investors. Bankman-Fried and his associates are also facing fresh accusations that they violated campaign finance laws by routing money through “straw” donors — people who made contributions at FTX officials’ behest — in order to avoid federal giving limits.
Oregon has no such limits for state political races and causes, and Singh would have been perfectly free to donate $500,000 to the state party in his own name.
Given allegations that FTX and its executives bilked investors, however, some have called on recipients of cash from the organization to return it. The DPO has not said whether it will do so.
Bankman-Fried made a splash in Oregon’s political scene last year, when a political committee he bankrolled spent millions of dollars on behalf of Carrick Flynn, a Democratic candidate for Oregon’s new congressional seat. Despite handily outspending his opponents, Flynn came in a distant second in the primary to now-U.S. Rep. Andrea Salinas.