Washington, DC: Congressman Ami Bera’s father, 83-year-old Babulal Bera, is reported to have admitted in court on Tuesday, May 10th that he violated campaign finance laws after he was charged with making excessive contributions to his son’s Congressional campaign and often did so in the name of other people. Babulal Bera is reported to be facing a 30-month prison term after pleading guilty to two counts of violating campaign finance laws by funneling contributions to his son’s congressional campaign via straw donors.
The only Indian American Congressman Ami Bera, a physician by profession, is seeking his third congressional term to retain California’s CD 7 seat. Rep. Bera is facing a tough race against Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, a Republican. Bera said via a press statement issued that he knew nothing of his father’s activities. “I am incredibly saddened and disappointed in learning what my dad did. While I deeply love my father, it’s clear he has made a grave mistake that will have real consequences for him,” said Bera.
“Since I learned from authorities about this investigation, my team and I have cooperated fully with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Neither I, nor anyone involved with my campaign, was aware of my father’s activities until we learned about them from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and, on the advice of my attorney, I have not discussed this matter or anything else regarding my campaigns with my father,” said the congressman, adding that he has returned the full dollar amount to the U.S. Treasury.
According to charging documents made public via Pacer, Babulal Bera — after donating the maximum amount allowed by law, $2,400, to his son’s first bid for office in 2009 — began soliciting friends and family members to contribute equal amounts, with the promise that he would reimburse them for their donations with his own money. Court papers state that prosecutors have identified 130 improper campaign contributions from 90 donors, in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, attributable to Babulal Bera.
The contributions were made in the 2009 and 2011 election cycles. In 2009, the elder Bera reimbursed people for more than $225,000 in donations. During the 2011 elections, Bera’s parents donated more than $40,000, court documents show, media reports stated. The fraud was determined from the campaign’s Federal Election Commission quarterly report filings.
The National Republican Congressional Committee immediately called upon Bera to “return dirty campaign cash.” “As new reports reveal that illegal donations helped finance his campaigns, Ami Bera needs to immediately return the hundreds of thousands of dollars of illegal campaign contributions he has accepted,” said NRCC spokesman Zach Hunter. “It defies belief that Rep. Bera was unaware of these activities, and 7th District voters deserve to know the truth,” he added.
At a news conference on May 10, acting U.S. Atty. Phillip A. Talbert said: “Congressman Bera and his campaign staff have been fully cooperative in this investigation. To date, there is no indication from what we’ve learned in the investigation that either the congressman or his campaign staff knew of, or participated in, the reimbursements of contributions.”
The case may be a political setback for Rep. Bera, who has won his two elections with slim margins in what have been billed as one of the most expensive Congressional campaigns in the country. Political analyst Kevin Raggs, speaking to Local TV channel KCRA 3, said stakes are higher this time round for the Democrats because getting a House majority could be in play. “So what happens with Bera’s seat really does have potential national implications,” Raggs contended. As per reports, Babulal Bera signed a plea agreement on May 2, pleading guilty to one count of making excessive campaign contributions and one count of making campaign contributions in another person’s name. Both charges carry maximum penalties each of up to five years in prison or a fine of $250,000 for each count, or both fine and imprisonment. He is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 4.
According to the plea agreement, prosecutors have agreed not to seek a prison sentence of more than 30 months. They have also agreed not to bring charges against Babulal Bera’s wife, Kanta Bera. Babulal “Bob” Bera — a native of Gujarat — immigrated to California in 1958 to earn a master’s degree from the University of Southern California. Two years later, Kanta joined him, and attended USC to earn her graduate degree. She then worked as a public school teacher. Babulal Bera, is said to told the judge, when asked whether he had broken the law, “I have indeed done the crime.