RENO — Former power broker Harvey Whittemore told a Nevada State Bar disciplinary panel that he did not think he broke the law when he used family and friends as “straw donors” to pump more than $130,000 into the campaign of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2007.
Whittemore, who was convicted last year of violating campaign finance laws and sentenced to two years in prison, is seeking leniency from the panel.
After hearing closing arguments Jan. 22, the panel will have 30 days to decide what punishment, if any, it will recommend to the Nevada Supreme Court, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported. The court will decide whether Whittemore deserves no punishment, should have his license suspended or should be disbarred.
Whittemore testified Friday that he studied the law and decided that he could legally take out a loan, distribute the funds as gifts and ask the recipients to support Reid’s campaign.
He said he did not think he was committing a crime and he believed he was “absolutely authorized” to make the contributions.
Retired U.S. District Judge David Hagen and retired Nevada Supreme Court Justice Bob Rose both praised Whittemore as a highly regarded lawyer and a hard worker.
“I’ve had the same opinion of Mr. Whittemore as a lawyer right up to this very moment,” Hagen said.
Whittemore’s lawyer, John Echeverria, said his client’s state of mind at the time of the contributions should be the deciding factor in his punishment.
“The bottom line is to what extent should we discipline an attorney who, at the time, did not believe what he was doing was a crime,” he said.
But Patrick King, assistant Bar counsel, noted that Whittemore was convicted of three felony counts and objected to any suggestion that he should be given a break.
“The only issue for this panel is what is the appropriate discipline for someone who has committed these three felonies,” he said.
During his testimony, Whittemore recalled the 2007 lunch date when Reid asked for help raising money.
“‘Do you think you can raise $150,000?’” he said Reid asked.
“That’s a lot of money,” he said he told the Nevada Democrat, who was never accused of wrongdoing.
Whittemore said Reid told him, “‘I think you can do it.’”
Asked how he feels about being a convicted felon, Whittemore replied, “Just devastated.” He began to cry when asked whether he had any regrets. “That I’ve wasted everyone’s time,” he said, and caused his family pain.
Asked whether he ever intends to contribute to a political candidate again, he said, “No. I’m rehabilitated.”