Friday, May 17, 2019
Opinion Affirms Convictions of Mexican Tycoon Who Contributed Nearly $600,000 to Candidates for Mayor of San Diego, Upholds Convictions of Political Consultant Who Took Part in Conspiracy
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Congress does have the power to bar foreign nationals from contributing to state and local political campaigns, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held yesterday in upholding convictions of a Mexican tycoon whose donations were instrumental in bringing about the 2012 election of Bob Filner as San Diego mayor and a political consultant who aided him.
Circuit Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. wrote the opinion which affirms the convictions of businessman Jose Susumo Azano Matsura and Ravneet Singh, former CEO of ElectionMall Technologies on various counts, while reversing their convictions for willfully causing the Filner campaign to file false campaign finance reports, saying the evidence was insufficient. A remand for resentencing was ordered.
The panel did find sufficient evidence of willfully causing the committee backing the successful 2012 mayoral bid of then-San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis to file false reports.
Matsura had backed Dumanis in the primary and, when that her bid failed—she came in fourth—he switched allegiance to Filner in the run-off. (Filner took office in December 2012 but resigned in August of the following year amid allegations of sexual harassment, and later pled guilty to false imprisonment and battery.)
The businessman made total contributions of nearly $600,000 to the San Diego campaigns.
In yesterday’s Ninth Circuit opinion, Smith wrote:
“Appellants challenge whether Congress has the power to prohibit foreign nationals from donating and contributing to state and local elections. Due to the federal government” s plenary power over foreign affairs and immigration, we find that Congress has such a power.”
“[W]here, as here, Congress has made a judgment on a matter of foreign affairs and national security by barring foreign nationals from contributing to our election processes, it retains a broad power to legislate. The Supreme Court has recognized that ‘any policy toward aliens is vitally and intricately interwoven with contemporaneous policies in regard to the conduct of foreign relations, the war power, and the maintenance of a republican form of government.’…A prohibition on campaign donations and contributions by foreign nationals is necessary and proper to the exercise of the immigration and foreign relations powers….Accordingly, Congress was within its power when it acted to protect the country’s political processes after recognizing the susceptibility of the elections process to foreign interference.”
Power to Legislate
The defendants argued that Congress does not have the power to legislate with respect to state and local elections, pointing to a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a provision of the Voting Rights Act setting at 18 the voting age for state and local elections and a high court decision invalidating a statute purporting to render bribery in state and local elections a federal offense.
“We find these cases inapposite,” Smith said. “They discuss Congress’s authority to regulate state elections as they relate to citizens of the United States.”
The statute the defendants violated, he said, “regulates only foreign nationals, which is within the ambit of Congress’s broad power to regulate foreign affairs and condition immigration.”
Matsura was convicted in September 2016 of 36 counts relating to campaign financing, but jurors were deadlocked on a charge of possessing a semi-automatic handgun in contravention of a ban on gun possession by a holder of a visitors and tourism visa. He was convicted of that offense in September 2017.
On appeal, he argued that the weapons ban violated his rights under the Second Amendment. Without deciding whether a non-citizen possesses rights under that amendment, Smith said:
“The government’s interest in this case is straightforward. The government’s interest is…crime control and maintaining public safety. This objective has repeatedly been recognized as important within our circuit and elsewhere.”
He declared that the “prohibition on firearm possession and ownership by nonimmigrant visa holders serves an important public interest in crime control and public safety, without substantially burdening a nonimmigrant visa holder’s assumed Second Amendment right.”
District Court Judge Michael M. Anello of the Southern District of California sentenced Matsura to three years in prison and imposed a $560,955 fine on him. The judge sentenced Singh, who funneled funds from Matsura to the campaigns and was convicted on four counts, 15 months in prison and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.
U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a 2017 statement following the sentencing of Matsura:
“In return for his money, Azano sought to buy political influence and support for his vision: ‘Miami West’—a San Diego waterfront development project with a yacht marina, a branded five-star hotel and luxury bayside condominiums, a development project that promised Azano hundreds of millions in profit. Azano also demanded access, like the ability to summon influential political figures to his home on a moment’s notice or to obtain letters of reference to secure his son’s admission to the University of San Diego.”
A remand was ordered by yesterday’s opinion for resentencing of the two in light of the reversal the conviction of each on one count.
The case is United States v. Singh, 17-50337.
Copyright 2019, Metropolitan News Company