Scrambling to mitigate news that conservative filmmaker and Fox News darling Dinesh D'Souza was indicted for felony federal campaign finance violations, the network suggested that Democrat Pierce O'Donnell's 2012 misdemeanor convictions for the same crime is evidence that the Obama administration is targeting political enemies -- but O'Donnell was originally charged with even more felony counts than D'Souza.
D'Souza, known for his conspiratorial film 2016: Obama's America, was indicted this week “by a federal grand jury for arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate,” according to Reuters. D'Souza allegedly repaid people who, at his direction, contributed $20,000 to New York Republican senate candidate Wendy Long, well beyond the legal contribution limit.
His allies in the conservative media handled news of the indictment by accusing the Department of Justice of seeking to silence people on President Obama's "enemies list" in the custom of "Nazi Germany" and "Stalin."
Fox's evening news show Special Report attempted to further this conspiracy theory by pointing to the case of Pierce O'Donnell, an attorney who pled guilty to making approximately $26,000 in illegal campaign contributions to disgraced former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards' 2004 campaign. The program repeatedly suggested political retribution was at play because O'Donnell “faced only a misdemeanor conviction” for a near identical crime to D'Souza's, who is charged with a felony. Correspondent Doug McKelway and contributor Charles Krauthammer raised these claims in different segments during the program.
But there is a fatal flaw in Fox's argument: O'Donnell was actually indicted for three felonies, more serious charges than D'Souza faces.
O'Donnell faced a maximum of 12 years in prison for reimbursing 13 people who contributed to Edwards' campaign at his direction. By contrast, D'Souza's charges are lighter -- he's charged with two felony counts, facing a maximum of seven years in prison. The two men were even charged for violating the same U.S. statutes, except O'Donnell originally faced the additional charge of conspiracy.
O'Donnell eventually reached a plea deal, where he pled guilty to two misdemeanor charges in exchange for a 60-day prison sentence. D'Souza may also end up avoiding a felony conviction, but this remains to be seen.