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January 24, 2014 9:41 AM Profile in Chutzpah

By Ed Kilgore

Do you know how hard it is, in the era of Citizens United, to violate federal campaign finance laws unless you do something really stupid? Or to put it another way: do you know how many entirely legal ways there are to get around the $2500 per candidate (per contest) contributions limit? Believe me, there’s lot of them.

That’s what makes it so remarkable that right-wing controversialist Dinesh D’Souza, best known as a racial provocateur, has managed to get himself indicted for enabling “straw” contributions, via (yes) his estranged wife and his girlfriend, to a federal candidate, presumably his friend and former Dartmouth Review colleague Wendy Long. That means D’Souza allegedly got these women to contribute to Long by promising to reimburse them.

If the “estranged wife and girlfriend” references ring a bell, that’s because D’Souza last made news when he was dismissed as president of the conservative evangelical King’s College in October of 2012 for consorting with said girlfriend, leading to his divorce from said wife.

D’Souza could theoretically face two years in the hoosegow over the campaign finance violations, though that would be unusual in this kind of case unless he gets a judge or prosecutor highly aware of his status as one of the nastiest pieces of work in U.S. political media. At the Daily Beast today, David Sessions discusses how rapidly D’Souza has fallen from the heights of success in the very competitive industry of Obama-smearing:

The indictment is just the latest in a tangle of personal and professional difficulties that swarmed around D’Souza at what was arguably the height of his success: the popularity of his 2012 anti-Obama documentary 2016: Obama’s America. The film, which was released in the summer of 2012 and became a slow-burn hit with conservatives in the run-up to the presidential election, earned over $33 million at the box office and was the highest-grossing documentary since 1982….
D’Souza’s departure from the King’s College was the symbolic end of his career in the institutional conservative movement, which had grown increasingly exasperated with his string of conspiratorial books that failed to live up to his reputation as a star of conservative scholarship. (One advanced the notion that America’s moral decadence led to 9/11; another launched the meme, which has long since become a political punch line, that Obama was a “Kenyan anti-colonialist.”)

Sometimes people like D’Souza are very careful to avoid doing anything that could lead to abandonment by friends, gloating schadenfreude among enemies, and greater notoriety generally. And sometimes their luck in getting away with and even being rewarded for outrages suspends their instincts for self-preservation altogether. That seems to be the case here. And even if he avoids jail, his ability to command big money is probably gone for good. Who wants to invest in a guy who can’t find a way around campaign finance laws?

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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