Gore Supporter Pleads Innocent
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A longtime political supporter of Vice President Al Gore pleaded innocent Monday to making illegal campaign donations in a case hinging in part on First Amendment protection for political donors.
Franklin L. Haney is the 14th person charged in a Justice Department investigation of unorthodox donations to Gore and other Democrats, including President Clinton.
The investigation has produced indictments against prominent Democratic donors and fund-raisers. Several of those cases were put in limbo in September, when a federal judge threw out most of the case against fund-raiser Maria Hsia.
Haney’s lawyer, Ross Nabatoff, asked for additional time to prepare his case in light of the Hsia ruling.
``Hsia, obviously, is a really good ruling for us,″ Nabatoff said at Haney’s arraignment Monday. ``I’m going to ride that as long as I can.″
Twenty-five of the 42 charges brought this month against Haney, a Chattanooga, Tenn., developer, allege he is responsible for ``false statements″ to the Federal Election Commission.
Haney is accused of conspiring with his administrative assistant to use ``conduits″ to contribute his own money in the names of other people listed on federal election records as the donors.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman threw out similar false statements charges against Ms. Hsia in a sternly worded opinion focusing on the First Amendment’s role in protecting political speech.
``The court must guard against the risk that free and protected speech will be chilled, that a prosecutorial net, thrown broadly, will ensnare the innocent for unknowing or technical violations, and will engender fear among those seeking to engage in legitimate protected First Amendment activity,″ the judge wrote.
The Justice Department is planning an appeal in the Hsia case, which accuses the longtime political ally of Gore of funneling $65,000 in illegal donations from a Buddhist temple to the Clinton-Gore campaign and arranging illegal contributions to other candidates.
In the meantime, prosecutors retooled their indictment against another prominent figure. Pauline Kanchanalak, a Thai businesswoman accused of using fake donors to steer at least $679,000 in foreign and corporate contributions to Democrats, was first indicted in July.
The substitute indictment brought Friday dropped some of the false statements charges against Ms. Kanchanalak but did not significantly change the thrust of the case.
Friedman will preside over Ms. Kanchanalak’s trial on 18 charges in March.
Another District Court judge, Richard Roberts, is hearing the Haney case. Roberts agreed the eventual appeals court decision in the Hsia case will affect Haney’s trial, but did not put the case on hold as a result.
Haney’s lawyers have until Nov. 30 to file motions expected to focus on the Hsia ruling and the ramifications for Haney. Another hearing is scheduled for Dec. 21.
Haney is free on his own recognizance. Roberts ordered him to turn in his passport and check in with the court weekly by phone.