A former Republican political operative convicted in the first federal criminal case of illegal coordination between a campaign and a purportedly independent ally was sentenced Friday to two years in prison — a lighter punishment than prosecutors sought but one that still served as a sharp warning. Under questioning from U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady, Tyler Harber said: “I’m guilty of this. I knew it was wrong when I did it.” But Harber said he was not motivated by greed or a lust for power — he simply wanted to win an election and believed that what he was doing was a common, if illegal, practice. “I got caught up in what politics has become,” said Harber, 34, a resident of Alexandria. The watershed prosecution comes as super PACs are playing increasingly prominent roles in national politics.
Nearly all the 2016 White House contenders are being helped by outside groups run by friends or former strategists — in many cases, operating in close proximity. But complaints about potentially illegal coordination have stalled before the Federal Election Commission, which is mired in partisan gridlock.
Top federal officials issued strong statements Friday warning that candidates and consultants should tread carefully as the 2016 race heats up.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said that political operatives should “think twice about circumventing laws that promote transparency in federal elections” and encouraged party and campaign insiders to act as whistleblowers. In court, federal prosecutor Richard Pilger asked O’Grady to send Harber to prison for three years and 10 months, saying such a term would send a message to the campaign world that “how you win matters.”