WASHINGTON — As Rep. Chris Cannon sat by, one of his aides urged any illegal aliens listening to a Spanish-language radio talk show to funnel money into his campaign by giving it to U.S. citizens who could donate it legally.
However, federal law not only bans political donations from foreign nationals, it also bans such funneling through citizens, too — and the solicitation or receipt of it.
Still, Marco Diaz, an aide to Cannon, R-Utah, told Radio Unica in Spanish on May 22, "If you are undocumented you must find, we welcome this money, but you have to find someone who is legal in order to donate money."
Cannon aides say Cannon later in the program tried to clarify that illegal immigrants could not legally donate directly or indirectly to him, but a tape of that portion of the program could not be located. Others dispute that Cannon made such clarification. But the talk show host supports Cannon's version.
A program listener gave a partial tape and transcript of the program to the campaign of Matt Throckmorton, who is challenging Cannon in next week's primary.
Throckmorton's campaign was going to have an attorney evaluate whether violations occurred.
Throckmorton said the apparent plea for donations from illegal aliens "really bothers me. It was pretty brazen." He said others have sent the information along to the Federal Election Commission in hopes it will investigate.
Cannon aides complained about the timing of disclosures to the press. "This has been floating out there for two or three weeks, but suddenly before the (primary) election, it comes up now," complained Joe Hunter, Cannon's chief of staff.
He said Cannon was too busy with congressional business to comment on the matter.
Focusing on illegal immigration helped Throckmorton survive the Utah Republican Convention and surprisingly forced Cannon into the June 22 primary. He and outside groups have criticized Cannon for pushing "temporary guest worker" bills that would allow illegal aliens to earn citizenship.
The listener who provided the tape to the Throckmorton campaign, Steve Staker, is a former federal prosecutor. He said his wife likes to listen to Spanish-language radio in Salt Lake and she taped the Cannon program for him. "When I listened to it, my suspicions were aroused," he said.
After some research, he found that federal law bans the sort of solicitations mentioned on the program, so he provided his tape plus transcripts and translations of parts that concerned him to Throckmorton and the press.
The transcript shows talk show host Jose Libardo Rivera first brought up the idea of illegal immigrants donating to Cannon since they could not vote. Diaz said that wasn't allowed but talked about funneling it through citizens.
"We are trying to change all these rules, but the federal law really does prohibit us from doing some things, and we want to do everything by the rule," Diaz said.
He noted that if Cannon did not follow rules, "our opponent can attack us and say, 'You see, he is trying to influence the race with people that, that are not here legally in this country.' Therefore, it has to be done with precaution. We want all your help."
The transcript indicates Cannon made comments on occasion, including saying that minors who are citizens can make donations. Recent election law reform had outlawed such donations by minors, but Hunter says that portion was overturned by courts.
However, other intact portions of the law say it is illegal for "a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation . . . from a foreign national."
Also, it says, "No person shall make a contribution in the name of another person or knowingly permit his name to be used to effect such a contribution and no person shall knowingly accept a contribution made by one person in the name of another person."
Hunter said Cannon late in the show clarified that illegal aliens could not legally funnel money to him. "The notion that he would advocate for donations from foreign nationals is absurd. He's not going to do that. He knows the law," Hunter said.
Rivera said he did not tape the program, but he remembers Cannon making such clarifications.
Staker said he remembers that Cannon did clarify in later portions that if minors made donations, it had to be their decision — but said he remembers no other clarifications.
Throckmorton said that the Radio Unica program aside, "What worries me even more is a loophole we have in our election law. In Utah, all you need to register to vote is a driver's license and Utah is one of just four states where we will knowingly give illegal aliens drivers' licenses. I worry he (Cannon) may try to get illegals to register" and vote.
Hunter called such speculation "absolutely absurd."