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Election agency won't pursue ally of Lyons

For lack of resources, the FEC is dropping a complaint about a donation made to U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown.

By DAVID DAHL Times Washington Bureau Chief

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 26, 1998

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Election Commission has declined to pursue a complaint that U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville broke the law by accepting $10,000 from a secret bank account controlled by the Rev. Henry J. Lyons.

The National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative non-profit group based in Virginia, filed the complaint in April after the St. Petersburg Times disclosed the payment from a Wisconsin bank controlled by Lyons.

The group alleged that Brown had violated election law by accepting a donation in excess of the $1,000 limit and by failing to report the contribution.

Brown, a Democrat who is a close political ally of Lyons, said through her attorney that the money was committed for chartered buses to bring supporters to Tallahassee on the day of a court hearing about redrawing her congressional district lines.

FEC spokeswoman Sharon Snyder said the commission is dropping the case -- as it has many others -- because it does not have enough staff investigators to go after every complaint it gets. The FEC did not determine whether Brown had violated the election law.

"This matter is less significant relative to other matters pending before the commission," the FEC wrote.

The payment first surfaced in a racketeering and fraud case against Lyons, president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc.

Robert Bauer, Brown's attorney, argued the money wasn't a campaign contribution because it was intended for a redistricting event. Those activities are specifically exempt from election laws, he said.

"The rally was clearly not a campaign rally, but rather a rally committed . . . to the fulfillment of the Voting Rights Act in Florida and beyond," Bauer wrote in a June letter to the FEC that was released by the commission this week.

"Similar events to mark the occasion of a pivotal legal battle or anniversary of the Voting Rights Act have been held throughout the country," Bauer wrote. "Elected officials have been centrally involved in these activities. Nevertheless, their status as candidates does not convert the funds used to pay for those events into campaign contributions. "The funds were not used for campaign-related or personal purposes," he added.

Brown was re-elected Nov. 3, even as a federal investigation continues into other aspects of her activities.

Her daughter received a $50,000 Lexus automobile from the associate of a West African millionaire three months after the congresswoman tried to keep him out of prison on a bribery charge. After the Times disclosed the gift, her daughter sold the car this summer and said she gave the proceeds to charity.

Investigators also reportedly are looking into whether Brown broke federal laws last year by staying in a luxurious Miami condominium owned by the millionaire Foutanga Sissoko. The Times reported this year that the FBI has sent subpoenas to two posh Brickell Key high-rises seeking records about Sissoko, Brown and her daughter, Shantrel Brown.

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