FBI investigating illegal donation scheme for Collins campaign: report

The FBI is investigating an alleged scheme to illegally fund Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTransit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal The Hill's Morning Report - Infrastructure vote fails; partisan feud erupts over Jan. 6 panel Senate falling behind on infrastructure MORE's (R-Maine) 2020 reelection campaign carried out by a former defense contractor in Hawaii.

Axios obtained a search warrent request that shows the FBI believes former Navatek CEO Martin Kao reimbursed his family members around $150,000 in donations to a pro-Collins super PAC. As a federal contractor, Kao was prohibited from donating to federal political committees. The straw man donations appear to have been a way of working around that rule.

Collins's communications director Annie Clark told The Hill, "The Collins for Senator Campaign had absolutely no knowledge of anything alleged in the warrant."

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Clark pointed to language on the Collins for Senator website that stated in order to make a contribution one must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, the contribution must come from their own personal funds and they must be at least 18 years old.

The Hill has reached out to the FBI for further information regarding the investigation.

According to the outlet, federal prosecutors are alleging that Kao and his wife, Tiffany Lam Kao, set up a fake LLC called the Society for Young Women Scientists and Engineer. Kao then gave the LLC $150,000 in funds from Navatek, now known as the Martin Defense Group, which was then passed on to the super PAC.

Many of Kao and his wife's family and friends are shown to have donated to Collins's campaign in 2019 according to the FBI document and the FEC. According to the FBI, bank records show that Kao reimbursed each friend or family member for the donations they made, writing a series of $5,600 checks to many of them. These identical amounts were donated to Collins by those associated with Kao.

The donations were made between June and September of 2019, Axios reports.

In the search warrant, the FBI requests for permission to search Kao's hard drive.

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"Accordingly, there is probable cause to believe that Martin Kao, Clifford Chen [Kao's colleague at Navatek], a federal contract prohibited from making political campaign contributions, used family members associated with Kao, Chen and Navatek as conduits for contributions to the Collins for Senator campaign committee in violation of 52 U.S.C § 30122 and U.S.C. § 30119," the FBI wrote in its search warrant request.

Kao was arrested last year and charged with money laundering and for stealing more than $12.8 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) money. He allegedly inflated the number of employees he had and falsely claimed to not have received any other PPP loans.

Axios notes that Collins had previously helped with Navatek securing a defense contract with the U.S. Navy a few months before the donations were made.