WASHINGTON – As voters gear up for the Utah Republican primary on Tuesday, four-term Rep. Chris Cannon (search) is fighting off charges that he is in violation of campaign finance laws (search) after making an appeal to illegal immigrants for campaign donations.
Cannon, sponsor of the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act of 2003 (search), which gives long-time illegal immigrants employed in the U.S. agriculture industry the chance to qualify for work visas, appeared on Salt Lake City Spanish-language radio station KBJA last month with a part-time congressional aide.
During the 90-minute interview, which was conducted entirely in Spanish, Cannon's aide, Marco Diaz, urged illegal immigrants and those under 18-years-old to send in donations to Cannon's campaign.
"Really, if you are undocumented you must find, we welcome this money, but you have to find someone who is legal in order to donate money," Diaz told listeners, according to a translation of the broadcast.
A bit later in the interview, Cannon, a proficient Spanish speaker, said minor children of citizens can donate, leading Diaz to exclaim: "Very good! I hadn’t thought of that! But if your child is a citizen, you can donate in the name of your child. The only thing that you need is, is to be a citizen. Many of you, perhaps, have children who are citizens."
Despite the advice, the suggestions by Cannon and Diaz violate three federal campaign laws: children under 18 are prohibited from donating; foreign nationals, which illegal aliens are by definition, are prohibited from donating; and individuals are prohibited from donating cash in another person's name.
"He is my representative and I expect him to be honest, and if he does not do so, I am going to hold his feet to the fire," Russell Sias, a Provo resident and Republican precinct captain, told Foxnews.com. Sias filed a complaint to the Federal Election Commission (search) on Monday, asking it to investigate what he says are blatant violations.
But Cannon spokesman Joe Hunter said that during the interview, Cannon quickly corrected the record on who is legal to donate.
"The folks who shopped this transcript and tape around ... have been after us for months," said Hunter, who described how a coalition of anti-immigration groups have posted billboards, run ads and sent around e-mails in an effort to oust Cannon, mainly over the legislation giving illegals a chance to come clean.
"There is a vocal minority who is concerned about [the bill]. Once people understand what it does — as opposed to being told what it does by others — it's well received," Hunter said, adding that in two or three polls taken on the topic, "a majority of folks, a majority of Republicans, agree with what the bill tries to do."
Sias made clear that he opposes the legislation, saying that he doesn't agree with what he described as an outright amnesty for illegals.
"My grandson in Montana could not come here to the University of Utah without paying non-resident fees... unless I could prove he's the child of an illegal alien," Sias said. "I have a responsibility to obey the law, and in Cannon's case, I am just sick and tired of his misrepresentations. He apparently doesn't have a dictionary. He certainly doesn't know the meaning of the word 'amnesty.'"
Wanda Carrasquillo, a professor at Western Governors University and former colleague of Diaz's in the Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly, said she too is dissatisfied with Cannon's approach to handling immigration concerns.
"His position is to fix laws, but the way he has approached it ... he has not taken into consideration protecting our borders," she said, adding that the law disproportionately favors Mexican illegals and is an attempt to favor one particular group.
Hunter said the law doesn't identify the country of origin for agriculture workers, but acknowledged that many Mexicans will benefit as a result of their being in the agriculture trade. He added that the bill is not an amnesty, it just gives illegals a chance to do things the right way.
"By virtue of statistics," Mexicans may benefit in larger numbers, he said, but the argument in the bill would apply to agricultural workers wherever they're from.
"It allows them, in essence, to get in the legal line without having to, as the congressman says, 'make the walk of shame,'" he said.
The FEC does not comment on the status of complaints until they are dispatched, but Craig Holman of Public Citizen (search), a non-profit advocacy group and campaign finance watchdog, said Cannon did violate the rules.
"It's quite obvious that a violation of federal law was made... while Chris Cannon was on the radio show," Holman said, pointing out that Cannon never directly asked for money, but is nonetheless culpable as his sat there and listened to his aide solicit donations.
But, Holman said, Public Citizen declined to file a complaint with the FEC because he thought the tape demonstrated that there really wasn't a concerted effort to violate federal election finance law.
"The violation is not sufficiently egregious to warrant the time and effort of Public Citizen to file a complaint," Holman said, calling Cannon's role more one of carelessness and poor judgment. "If he were to do it twice, I would not hesitate."
Hunter said Cannon's quick correction, as recollected by the representative, his wife and three or four other people there at the time, shows that he was not trying to break the law. He also defended Diaz's gregariousness as more a side effect of overzealousness than any sinister plan to enlist the help of an illegal Hispanic community. Hunter said neither he nor the radio station had a taped copy of the interview to point to the corrections he made.
Sias, who describes himself as "99 and 9/10 pure anti-Cannon" said he heard about the Spanish-language interview through word-of-mouth. He declined to comment on whether he had a complete tape of the conversation that would prove whether Cannon tried to correct himself.
"I am perfectly happy to let him climb out on the limb a little further before I cut it off, and I am happy to cut it off," he said. "Rep. Cannon is going to be held accountable for his actions."