PHOENIX — A now-disbarred Florida lawyer who admitted to orchestrating a huge Ponzi scheme gave more than $180,000 to Arizona Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, contributions that McCain's Senate rival is now making an issue in their competitive primary.
Scott Rothstein was sentenced Wednesday to 50 years in prison after he confessed to running a $1.2 billion fraud using faked legal settlements.
Rothstein also was a key contributor and fundraiser who bundled more than $500,000 in campaign contributions for McCain's 2008 race, according to the campaign finance watchdog Center for Responsive Politics.
The exact amount he raised from others is unknown, but Rothstein boasted to the Wall Street Journal in 2008 that he raised as much as $1.1 million for McCain.
The campaign of former U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who is challenging McCain in Arizona's Aug. 24 Republican primary, demanded that the four-term senator account for and donate all of the money connected to Rothstein.
"McCain can't have it both ways. He can't be the champion of campaign finance reform one day and then take more than a million dollars from a convicted felon the next day," Hayworth spokesman Mark Sanders said.
Federal Election Commission records show that Rothstein and his wife gave $9,200 directly to McCain's 2008 campaign accounts and another $177,500 to his joint fundraising committee, which distributed it to various state Republican parties for use on McCain's behalf.
McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said the $9,200 under McCain's control was given to four Arizona charities in November. The rest of the money was out of the campaign's control and was distributed to state GOP committees for the 2008 race, he said.
Rothstein's fraud didn't come to light until a year after the presidential race, and Rogers said it was ridiculous for the Hayworth campaign to try to link McCain to a Ponzi scheme through the shenanigans of one former fundraiser.
"This is absurd, but not surprising given Congressman Hayworth's warped view of reality," Rogers said.
McCain's campaign has attacked Hayworth's ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was sentenced in September 2008 to four years in prison on charges of mail fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion.
In his unsuccessful 2006 bid for a seventh term in the U.S. House, Hayworth donated to charity the $2,250 he received directly from Abramoff but declined to donate thousands more that he received from Abramoff's lobbying clients.
Rothstein had close relationships with politicians in Florida and elsewhere, who quickly moved to distance themselves from him as his scheme came tumbling down late last year. The Florida Democratic and Republican parties returned contributions connected to Rothstein, along with Forida Gov. Charlie Crist and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, both Republicans.
Rothstein pleaded guilty in January to five felony counts, including racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and wire fraud for a scheme that lasted from 2005 to 2009.