SAN FRANCISCO — A former Nevada lobbyist asked an appeals court Monday to toss out his conviction for illegal campaign fundraising for Sen. Harry Reid.
A lawyer for F. Harvey Whittemore argued that $133,000 he transferred to family, friends and employees in 2007 that wound up in Reid’s campaign coffers were unconditional gifts with no strings attached.
Prosecutor Elizabeth White countered that “what we have here are blatant, straightforward campaign contributions ... it’s no coincidence that all of these people were financially dependent upon him.”
Whittemore, 61, is currently serving a two-year prison sentence at a minimum-security prison on the central California coast after jurors rejected the same argument last year.
Reid, a Nevada Democrat, was not accused of any wrongdoing, although he was required to amend his FEC reports.
Whittemore’s legal woes began Feb. 19, 2007, when he met with Senate Majority Leader Reid at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas. Reid asked the once-influential developer and lobbyist to quickly raise $150,000 for his re-election campaign.
A month later, Whittemore gave his five children, a daughter-in-law and about a dozen of his employees and friends a combined $145,000. The recipients, in turn, contributed most of the money to Reid’s re-election campaign.
Prosecutors say Whittemore transferred $5,000 to recipients who were single and $10,000 if they were married. In each case, they contributed the maximum $4,600, leaving each recipient with $400 to keep.
Prosecutors say former partners of Whittemore who were in a business dispute with the one-time Nevada political powerbroker turned over files of the transactions to federal investigators after they found them in Whittemore’s former office.
Last year, a federal jury convicted Whittemore of making excessive campaign contributions, making contributions in the name of another, and lying to federal agents.
Whittemore’s lawyer Vincent Savarese argued that the cash transfers were unconditional gifts and that the recipients were free to spend the money as they saw fit. Judge William Fletcher interjected with skepticism.
“He made these payments with the expectations that the money was going to be contributed,” Fletcher said.
“He certainly had the hope and desire, but he relinquished all control of the funds,” Savarese replied.
Fletcher concluded the exchange by pointing out that the family, friends and employees of Whittemore depended on the once-influential lobbyist and developer financially.
“He had a fair amount of control over those people,” Fletcher said.
The three-judge panel is expected to rule later.
Prosecutors described Whittemore as the “king of the hill” in Nevada political circles, “the ultimate insider” who had worked his way onto the short list of many U.S. senators and representatives as someone to call when they needed to quickly find donors.
Whittemore once hosted an event for ex-Sen. John Edwards, then a Democratic presidential hopeful, and a fundraiser at Reid’s request for then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. He also helped arrange a reception attended by President Bill Clinton during an environmental summit at Lake Tahoe.
Associated Press Reno correspondent Scott Sonner contributed to this report.