Dinner May Land Cantor in Pickle

By E.J. Kessler

Published June 20, 2003, issue of June 20, 2003.
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In what experts say may be a violation of campaign finance laws, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, one of the top-ranking Republicans in the House, has failed to report a debt to a kosher restaurant.

The restaurant, Stacks Deli, owned by a major Washington lobbyist, was the site of a $500-a-plate fundraiser organized for Cantor last January, but federal records show no billing for the dinner’s expenses, nor any notation of the services as an in-kind contribution, a donation of goods offered for free or at less than the usual charge.

Cantor, 39, is the chief deputy majority whip and the only Jewish Republican in the House. Stacks Deli is owned by Archives Fine Dining Group, LLC, a firm founded and partly owned by Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist with the law firm Greenberg Traurig. The affair, a “sandwich naming party” at which Cantor was feted with an eponymous sandwich, was catered with the deli’s food, according to news accounts and participants.

No disbursement to Archives Fine Dining Group to pay for the food is recorded in Cantor’s April 15 first-quarter filing, nor is the catering listed in the filing as an in-kind contribution by another political committee or as a debt incurred by Cantor’s campaign.

Campaigns are required to report any debt that exceeds $500 within 60 days of its being incurred, according to Federal Election Commission regulations. An in-kind contribution is made on the date the goods or services are provided by the contributor, FEC regulations say. Contributions by corporations are prohibited, whether they are a gift of money, an in-kind contribution or a loan. Corporations may, however, form political action committees, known as PACs, for the purposes of making political donations.

Through a spokesman, Rob Collins, Cantor declined comment. Collins referred the Forward to Cantor’s campaign consultant, Ray Allen.

Allen said a charge for the food would appear on Cantor’s July 15 filing. “We’ve not received an invoice,” he told the Forward, saying that he expected one “if not today, then tomorrow.” He said that he had previously requested an invoice. He estimated that the catering cost $2,000 to $3,000.

Allen conceded that the lateness of the record-keeping may have violated FEC rules, but he said, “It’s a paperwork issue.”

Abramoff told the Forward, “The restaurant is running behind in sending out bills for some events,” which he attributed to a “screwy” accounting system.

A spokesman for the FEC, Ian Stirton, declined to comment on any specific factual situations regarding the regulations. “If someone thinks there has been a violation of federal election law, they can file a complaint,” he said.

A campaign lawyer consulted by the Forward said that it is the responsibility of Cantor’s campaign, and not the restaurant, to comply with FEC rules. “The campaign appears to have been a bit lax in obtaining an invoice so that a timely payment and a proper and timely disclosure could be made,” said Jerry Goldfeder, a prominent election lawyer in New York.

Paul Sanford, an expert on campaign finance law at the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group that tracks money in politics, said, “It may very well be a technical violation. It’s significant, but presumably because it will be corrected well before the election, the FEC is not likely to pursue a large fine.”

Cantor serves on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which, as Cantor’s House Web site notes, “has direct jurisdiction over taxes, trade, Social Security, Medicare, prescription drugs for seniors, healthcare and welfare reform.”

A number of contributions Cantor’s campaign committee, Cantor for Congress, deposited on January 28 appear to have come from the fundraiser at Stacks Deli, which news accounts described as being packed with members of Congress, their staffers and Republican activists.

A number of political action committees are recorded as having made contributions on that date. Among them are the Magazine Publishers of America PAC, the American Hospital Association PAC, the Dickstein, Shapiro, Morin & Oshinsky PAC and the Arnold & Porter PAC.

Other contributions recorded for that date are from top lobbyists Susan Hirschmann and Ralph Nurnberger.

Abramoff and his wife, Pamela Abramoff, contributed $2,000 each to Cantor during the period, according to the filing.

Cantor received 38.4% of his contributions from PACs in the 2001-2002 election cycle, according to information available on the Web site of the Center for Responsive Politics. The top industries that supplied money to that bid were real estate ($94,649), lawyers/law firms ($73,700), and securities and investments ($66,000), according to the center.

Cantor received $354,983.80 during the first-quarter reporting period and had a total of $322,973.11 cash on hand at its close, according to federal records.

Stacks Deli shares a kitchen with the Archives Restaurant, a more upscale establishment that has been closed since March, in the space that formerly housed Planet Hollywood at 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. In a January profile in the Forward, Abramoff said he envisioned both restaurants turning into a hub of Jewish life and political power in downtown Washington.

“Folks from Jewish organizations who need a Jewish restaurant for a power meeting — this is where they will come — and also Jews who are not keeping kosher but want to be with their people, in a Jewish setting,” he told the Forward at the time.

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