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February 05, 2016

AHF Steps In The Deep Campaign Finance Doo-Doo Again

LOS ANGELES—We're beginning to suspect that the term "double down" must be inscribed on the entrance to AIDS Healthcare Foundation's L.A. offices—if one can judge by their latest press release about the adult industry. In talking about the $61,500 fine levied by California's Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) because of a $268,000 donation from Luxembourg-owned production company MindGeek to fight Measure B, AHF wrote, "The FPPC fine was levied against the ‘No on Government Waste, No on Measure B’ campaign committee and Diane Duke, then Executive Director of the Free Speech Coalition, the adult industry producers’ trade group. The fine was for illegal foreign contributions made to their 2012 campaign against Measure B, the County of Los Angeles Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act, which requires porn producers in the County to obtain public health permits and use condoms in films...  However, MindGeek, a subsidiary of a MindGeek, S.A.R.L., a foreign company based in Luxembourg—which was formerly known as Manwin—paid the fine, making yet another illegal foreign campaign contribution." First, let's get a couple of things clear: the ‘No on Government Waste, No on Measure B’ campaign committee was an independent committee, though former FSC CEO Diane Duke did accept the responsibilities of being its treasurer—nothing more. Second, the entity which made the donation in question—MindGeek, formerly known as Manwin—has had executive offices in Burbank, Calif., for several years, and while the company's principals may have been based in Europe, the donation came from revenues acquired by Manwin in the U.S., because the company feared that its production arm, based entirely in California, would suffer if the company were required to use condoms and other "barrier protections" in its sex scenes. Hence, when the FPPC, based on a complaint from AHF, levied its fine on the anti-Measure B committee, allegedly because the Manwin contributions were illegal, Manwin/MindGeek paid the fine because A) the ‘No on Government Waste, No on Measure B’ had no money, having spent it all fighting AHF's onerous initiative; B) Diane Duke, whose only income was from her salary as Free Speech CEO, had nowhere near enough money to pay the fine; and C) most importantly, MindGeek was the entity that was targeted for the alleged illegal expenditure in the first place, so it would be entirely proper for them to pay the fine that they "caused" to be levied. So how did AHF react to the situation? In their usual hamfisted way, naturally: They filed yet another complaint with the FPPC, this time alleging that since MindGeek was a "foreign corporation," it was just as illegal for it to pay the fine as it was for it to make the campaign contribution in the first place! Never mind that there's a substantial difference between making a campaign contribution and paying a fine! "Effectively, MindGeek used foreign funds to absolve itself and its agents—i.e., Diane Duke and the Free Speech Coalition’s ‘No on Government Waste, No on Measure B’ committee—from their violations of illegally injecting foreign money onto our political system in 2012—with another illegal foreign campaign contribution in December 2015," the press release quoted Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) and one of the five proponents of Measure B, as saying. "There is little difference between MindGeek’s actions and a convicted embezzler who uses embezzled funds to pay off a fine for embezzlement." Um... actually, there's a great deal of difference. First of all, even if California's rules make Manwin's/MindGeek's contribution illegal, those funds were not used to pay the fine; some of MindGeek's other assets were used—and there's nothing in the rules against that. Secondly, Weinstein refers to the ‘No on Government Waste, No on Measure B’ committee as "Free Speech Coalition's ... committee." That's patently false. The only FSC member who had any connection with the campaign committee staff was Duke, and her job was merely to hold its funds until they were needed, though of course, she kept herself aware of the committee's activities because they were of vital interest to the adult industry community. "There's absolutely no merit to AIDS Healthcare Foundation's latest complaint," remarked Eric Paul Leue, Free Speech Coalition's new executive director. "Contrary to AHF's release, the Free Speech Coalition itself was never a party in the complaint, fine or settlement. More importantly, any contributions in relation to the payment of civil penalties were made in accordance with the rules set forth by the California Fair Political Practices Commission last year. This complaint's intended effect is entirely political, and not factual. The FPPC will dismiss it quickly." Let's hope so!

 
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