By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Dinesh D'Souza, a conservative commentator and best-selling author, has been indicted by a federal grand jury for arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate.
The candidate was Wendy Long, a Republican who sought to unseat Democratic incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand as New York's junior senator in 2012, according to a person familiar with the case.
A lawyer for D'Souza said his actions were "at worst," an act of misguided friendship.
D'Souza was charged in an indictment made public on Thursday with one count of making illegal contributions in the names of others and one count of causing false statements to be made.
The indictment said D'Souza directed individuals to contribute a total $20,000 to the campaign of an unnamed Senate candidate in 2012 and then reimbursed them for their contributions.
Federal law in 2012 limited primary and general election campaign contributions to $2,500 each, for a total of $5,000, from any individual to any one candidate.
"As we have long said, this office and the FBI take a zero tolerance approach to corruption of the electoral process," the U.S. Attorney for Manhattan, Preet Bharara, said in a statement released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Bharara is an appointee of President Barack Obama.
Born in Mumbai, India, D'Souza, 52, is a former policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan, and has been affiliated with conservative organizations such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
He also directed a 2012 film critical of Obama, "2016: Obama's America," and has written books including "The End of Racism," "Life After Death: The Evidence" and "Obama's America: Unmaking the American Dream."
D'Souza's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said in a statement there was no quid pro quo, nor did D'Souza have any knowledge that campaign finance rules might have been broken.
"Mr. D'Souza did not act with any corrupt or criminal intent whatsoever. He and the candidate have been friends since their college days, and at worst, this was an act of misguided friendship by D'Souza," Brafman said.
Long, who graduated from Dartmouth College in 1982, a year before D'Souza, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Gillibrand, a 1988 Dartmouth graduate, ended up winning re-election to her first full term, collecting close to 72 percent of the vote.
In late 2012, D'Souza resigned his post as president of King's College, a small Christian college in New York City, after admitting he had become engaged to a woman even though he was legally married, although separated from his wife. He has been an outspoken defender of traditional marriage.
The case is U.S. v. D'Souza, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-cr-00034.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel. Additional reporting by Emily Flitter. Editing by Eddie Evans and Andre Grenon)