Friday, August 5, 2011
Pierce O’Donnell Pleads Guilty to Making Illegal Campaign Contributions
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles attorney Pierce O’Donnell yesterday pleaded guilty to two counts of making illegal campaign contributions to a political committee supporting the election of a presidential candidate in 2003, officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The onetime congressional candidate, who has been a fixture of liberal Democratic politics, faces six months in federal prison, a $20,000 fine and 200 hours of community service under the terms of the plea agreement reached with prosecutors, which has been submitted for review by the federal court.
A sentencing hearing has been set for Nov. 7, before U.S. District Judge S. James Otero of the Central District of California.
O’Donnell admitted that he solicited employees of his law firm and at least one relative to make contributions to the presidential campaign, and reimbursed 10 people who each made a $2,000 contribution to the campaign.
Monies received from donors who are advanced or reimbursed the funds given to a campaign are known as “conduit contributions,” since the donor serves as a conduit for the person who is providing the money. This process serves to conceal the identity of the true financial supporter, and is banned by federal elections laws.
U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. noted that O’Donnell is “an experienced attorney and former candidate for the United States Congress” and “chose to circumvent the laws designed to maintain transparency and shed light on the campaign process” that he “should have been well aware of.”
This indictment did not identify the campaign, but the original charges brought against O’Donnell in 2008 accused him of illegally funneling $26,000 to John Edwards’ 2004 presidential campaign.
Two of the counts were dismissed by a federal judge in June 2009, on grounds that the election law prosecutors cited did not actually prohibit what O’Donnell did. The third was dropped by mutual agreement June 29.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year reinstated the dismissed charges.
O’Donnell was disciplined by the State Bar in February of this year, in connection with misdemeanor charges filed against him in 2004 for similar elections-related misconduct.
According to State Bar records, O’Donnell pledged to raise $50,000 in political contributions for then-Mayor James Hahn, now a superior court judge, in 2000. When he fell short of this goal, the attorney, through his assistant, advised his staff members that he would reimburse them for their political contributions to Hahn’s campaign. As a result, 26 individuals gave to Hahn’s campaign with the understanding that O’Donnell would reimburse each donor for his or her contribution.
The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office later charged O’Donnell with 26 counts of using a false name in making political contributions.
In Feb. 2006, O’Donnell entered a negotiated no contest plea to five counts, which Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alex Ricciardulli accepted. O’Donnell was also ordered to pay $155,200 in fines and penalties, serve three years probation, and refrain from political fundraising for three years.
The State Bar noted that O’Donnell’s misconduct evidenced multiple acts of wrongdoing, but that he had no prior record of discipline. He began an actual suspension of 60 days on Feb. 23 as part of a two-year term of probation. A two-year suspension was stayed.
O’Donnell, principal of O’Donnell & Associates, formed his firm in 2006 after dissolving his practice with Ann Marie Mortimer, now of Hunton & Williams, which they had established a decade prior.
According to his firm biography, he began his legal career in 1979, after earning his undergraduate and law degrees from Georgetown University, clerking for Supreme Court Justice Byron W. White, now deceased, and Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Shirley M. Hufstedler, since retired from the bench.
During his 30-year career, O’Donnell represented Pulitzer Prize winner Art Buchwald in a plagiarism action against Paramont Picutures over the film “Coming to America”; 300,000 victims of Hurricane Katrina against the Army Corps of Engineers; and Oscar-winning Actress Faye Dunaway in a wrongful termination suit against composer Andrew Lloyd Webber in the Los Angeles musical production of “Sunset Boulevard.”
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company