WASHINGTON - John McCain's campaign said last evening that it is returning about $50,000 in contributions solicited by a foreign citizen.
The move follows disclosures that the money was being raised by a Jordanian man who is a business partner of prominent Florida Republican Harry Sargeant III.
The presumptive Republican nominee's campaign says some of the people solicited by Mustafa Abu Naba'a had no intention of supporting McCain for president. Campaign spokesman Brian Rogers says "that just didn't sound right to us" so the money is being returned.
Reviewing the donations, the campaign sent a letter spelling out legal requirements to all donors who sent their contributions through Sargeant, the finance chairman of the Florida Republican Party, who has raised more than $500,000 for McCain.
The New York Times reported yesterday that Sargeant allowed Abu Naba'a, a longtime business partner, to bring in some $50,000 in donations in March from members of a single extended family, the Abdullahs, in California, along with several of their friends. The Times reported that several of the donors initially wrote checks of $9,200, exceeding the $2,300 limit for an individual gift.
Through Abu Naba'a's connections, Sargeant has brought in more than $100,000 in contributions from several dozen Arab-Americans in California, including the Abdullahs, for four candidates - McCain, Senator Hillary Clinton, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Charlie Crist in his successful campaign for Florida governor in 2006. Crist is a close friend and college fraternity brother of Sargeant.
Rogers said Abu Naba'a is not a bundler for the campaign, although Sargeant is. "He wasn't registered, and he hasn't contributed," Rogers said of Abu Naba'a, who, according to The Times, is a dual citizen of Jordan and the Dominican Republic.
The campaign letter to donors notes that federal law bars contributions from foreign nationals and that donations cannot be reimbursed. Federal election rules also bar foreign nationals from participating in campaign decision-making involving donations.
Several of the donors were emphatic in interviews with the Times that they had made the contributions on their own and had not been reimbursed.
Sargeant, a former Marine fighter pilot with business interests around the world, told the Times that he has known Abu Naba'a for more than a decade and has worked with him on commercial ventures, including a contract with the Pentagon to supply fuel to the military in Iraq.
A US House committee chairman is looking into Sargeant's defense contracts for shipping fuel to American bases in Iraq as part of a probe into whether contractors are engaging in overcharging.