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In the end, the arrogant lobbyist got what he deserved

When Harvey Whittemore reports to a federal prison Jan. 31, he deserves a yard nickname.

Harvey Hubris works.

His arrogance made the Reno lobbyist a felon.

He put up a defense that he did nothing wrong when he gave “gifts” to family and employees so they could oh-so-willingly donate early to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s 2008 campaign. The jury certainly didn’t buy it. Nor did U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks, who handled the trial and Monday’s sentencing.

This was a six-hour sentencing, which is almost unheard of for one person. Hicks listened to the government argue for a 51-month sentence and the defense argue for probation.

Hicks is a fine federal judge. I knew he wouldn’t opt for the heaviest sentence, nor the softest.

For those who think Whittemore’s 24 months and $100,000 fine was too heavy, well, you’re wrong.

And for those who think it’s too light, well, you’re wrong, too.

Hicks hit precisely the right balance with a sentence that is within a month or two of other lobbyists sentenced for the same crime — reimbursing others to pour illegal federal campaign funds above the legal limits into a campaign.

He had more money than time in February 2007 when he promised to raise $150,000 for Reid by the March quarterly campaign finance report. He took the quick and easy route, figuring skirting the law was not a biggie.

Witnesses said he didn’t actually tell them to take the money he gave them and donate to Reid. But only idiots wouldn’t understand the implication of his “suggestion.”

Whittemore used 29 people to funnel $133,400 to Reid in illegal conduit contributions.

Others have done it and received civil fines.

But lately the government has taken campaign contribution violations more seriously. One Virginia lobbyist who funneled $186,600 to the Obama campaign received a 28-month sentence — four months more than Whittemore.

Another well-known Washington lobbyist reimbursed employees more than $386,000 (386 thousand DOLLARS) in conduit contributions and was sentenced to 27 months, a mere three months more than Whittemore.

Hicks’ sentence was spot on, and he said the evidence was unmistakable. He didn’t cut Whittemore any slack, but neither did he punish him to make an example out of him. The judge took into account generous charitable giving by Whittemore, an estimated $12 million over 20 years.

I was outraged by the government’s 51-month argument, which was the top level of the sentencing guidelines for that crime.

But I was also outraged that Whittemore, someone I’ve known casually since 1987 through covering the Legislature, would do something so stupid and involve his family and employees. It’s not fun to be interviewed by the FBI in a criminal investigation, and that’s what Whittemore put his family and employees through.

The most important comments came from Hicks himself, the one that mattered.

Hicks said Whittemore’s crime “goes to the very heart of the electoral process,” and if the country can’t have faith in that process, “we cannot have faith in our democracy,” reported the Reno Gazette Journal’s Martha Bellisle. “The primary purpose of these laws is to limit the actuality or appearance of corruption resulting from large contributions. … The appearance of corruption from such a clear violation of the law is … astounding.”

Hicks crafted a just punishment for Whittemore, whose only hope now is that attorney Dominic Gentile can find a legal loophole challenging the law itself and win on appeal.

Whittemore’s biggest mistake was to wait until the day of sentencing to express remorse when during the trial his defense was that he did absolutely nothing wrong. Too little, too late, and too phony.

The judge must have noticed the disconnect.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275.

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