BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
On Thursday, January 23, a press release from the United States Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York announced "an Indictment charging DINESH D'SOUZA with violating the federal campaign finance laws by making illegal contributions to a United States Senate campaign in the names of others and causing false statements to be made to the Federal Election Commission in connection with those contributions." (U.S. v. D'Souza, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-cr-00034.)
The last time we encountered D'Souza, he had resigned as president of Kings College, a small Christian college in New York City, over some extracurricular lovey-dovey stuff with a woman (who was not his wife) at a right-wing conference called "Truth for a New Generation?"
Before that, D'Souza, a right-wing author, pundit and filmmaker, was raking in the dough with his scathing take on President Obama in his documentary titled 2016: Obama's America. The film, which was released prior to the 2012 presidential election and was aimed at providing enough ammunition to defeat Obama, failed politically but was a box office sensation, bringing in over $33 million. It became the fourth highest grossing documentary of all time, and the second most popular political documentary, trailing only Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 by some $80 million.
According to The New York Times, "Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said that D'Souza encouraged others to give $20,000 to a Senate candidate and reimbursed them for the donations. Election law prohibits such arrangements and caps donations at $5,000 per donor to any one candidate."
The Hollywood Reporter pointed out that "Federal authorities accuse D'Souza of donating more than is legal to the campaign of Wendy Long, who ran in 2012 for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton but lost to now-Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Long, though, is not mentioned in an indictment obtained by THR."
The indictment says that "D'Souza donated $20,000 to Long's campaign by aggregating the money from various people and falsely reporting the source of the funds."
Gerald Molen, a co-producer of 2016, says the charge is politically motivated. "In America, we have a long tradition of not doing what is commonly done in too many other countries -- criminalizing dissent through the selective enforcement of the law," Molen told THR.
"In light of the recent events and the way the IRS has been used to stifle dissent, this arrest should send shivers down the spines of all freedom-loving Americans," Molen says.
D'Souza was in San Diego and interrupted production of his next film, America, to fly to New York and turn himself into authorities. The new film -- due in theaters July 4 – stars D'Souza and is co-produced by Molen, who won a best picture Oscar for Schindler's List, and Gray Frederickson, who won a best picture Oscar for The Godfather Part II and more recently produced the pro-fracking film The Grand Energy Transition with energy mogul T. Boone Pickens. John Sullivan is directing America.
In a statement sent to THR, the filmmakers said: "We believe this is an unfortunate misunderstanding arising out of Dinesh D'Souza's desire to help the uphill campaign of a friend. There was no intent to do anything illegal or corrupt in any way. This will have no impact on the film America, which will be released on the fourth of July this year as previously announced. Filming is on schedule and D'Souza will continue to lead the enterprise."
Master of marketing
Even before his right-wing film set box-office records, Dinesh D'Souza was a reliable conservative voice. He is a prolific author of a number of books including The End of Racism, Life After Death: The Evidence and Obama's America: Unmaking the American Dream, and appeared frequently on various cable news networks and talk radio programs. He was a policy advisor to President Ronald Reagan and was affiliated with such conservative think tanks as the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
In 2012, Religion Dispatches' Sarah Posner pointed out that he "has rested his entire career for the past four years — a quite lucrative one — on his crazed claims that the president of the United States is a scary brown infiltrator with a slutty, un-American mother, an 'anti-colonial' father; a clandestine Muslim socialist who will cause the downfall of America as we know it. His film is being used as Bible study for teenagers."
The film 2016: Obama's America, based on D'Souza's book titled Obama's America, was a surprise hit, confounding critics who basically savaged the film. It's success, however, was in large part based on a savvy marketing campaign that reached out to conservative groups across the country, and arranged bus trips to theaters where the film was playing. "It also employed much of the same selling techniques used to garner attention and support for faith-based films, understandable since the audience is overlapping. Its campaign included advertising nationally on talk radio and cable news channels including Fox News Channel, A&E, History and MSNBC," Hollywood Deadline reported at the time.
D'Souza was feeling his oats and took pains to single out Michael Moore for special criticism: "Michael Moore is a creative, entertaining, and ridiculous figure," D'Souza told The Daily Beast's Meghan McCain. "I admire his entrepreneurship. I admire the fact that he knows how to pack a punch. But when you combine the sleight of hand, the manipulation of facts, the ignoring of facts, intellectually, it's a disgrace. I'm a college president. If I were at the intellectual level of Michael Moore, this movie would be a dud."
As I pointed out in the fall of 2012 in my piece "McCain asked if he thought he was 'smarter than Michael Moore?'" To which D'Souza answered that saying he was smarter than Moore was "like saying I'm smarter than Mike Tyson. Yes, I am saying that, but I'm saying more than that. I'm saying I made an intelligent film and he hasn't."
On January 23, Christianity Today reported that "ardent supporters of D'Souza launched an online campaign, Free Dinesh, on Facebook. They allege that the court case is a political payback by the Obama administration for 2016." (As of Friday morning, Free Dinesh had 666 Facebook likes.)
A poster on Dinesh D'Souza's website is billing the debate between D'Souza and Bill Ayers, the 1960s radical and now highly-esteemed educator, as "The Ultimate Fight Between Left and Right." Sponsored by Dartmouth College Republicans and Young America's Foundation, D'Souza and Ayers will square off over the topic "What's so great about America?" at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire, on January 30, at 7:30 PM East Coast Time. (It will be streamed live for free at DineshDSouza.com.)
It is unclear whether the D'Souza/Ayers debate will go off as scheduled. My hunch is that it will, and D'Souza the savvy marketer will: 1) use the indictment to claim that he is being singled out by a vindictive Obama administration and wear the indictment like a badge of honor; and, 2) make maximum use of it as a marketing tool for his new film.
(Photo: Gage Skidmore)