In a story which has been virtually ignored by the Australian media, embattled toll-road operator, Transurban, last week admitted to making more than US$170,000 in illegal political donations to more than 90 campaigns in Virginia in the past three years.

While Australian commentators have focused on the company’s decision to slash dividends, the Washington Post reported that:

Officials at Transurban, a U.S. subsidiary of an Australian company, said they should not have made the donations, because federal law forbids contributions from foreign companies and foreign nationals.

“We made an honest mistake,” said Michael Kulper, Transurban executive vice president. “We are genuinely concerned and upset about it.”

The company sent letters Wednesday to every candidate and political action committee it has contributed to in Virginia, asking for the money to be returned. Many did not know about the problem when they were contacted late Wednesday.

The Washington Post also noted that the largest recipient of the illegal contributions was Virginia House Speaker, William Howell, who noted that he will be returning the funds.

According to US law relating to elections, “a foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value … in connection with any federal, state, or local election.”

Transurban is currently involved in two Virginian projects — the Pocahontas toll road and the Beltway Tollway — it also is in the process of completing a third tolling project in the state. As with many Australian infrastructure developments, the Virginian projects are operated on a public-private partnership basis.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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