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Here's why Al Franken just returned $41K in campaign donations

Donations from an East Coast law firm to dozens of Democratic – and one Republican – politicians may have been improper,.
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An investigation into a Boston law firm has resulted in Democratic politicians returning more than $1 million in donations – including Minnesota's U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

The practices of Thornton Law Firm are now being probed by a the Federal Election Commission and the Boston U.S. Attorney's Office following an investigation by the Boston Globe and the Center for Responsive Politics in October highlighted some allegedly dubious methods at play.

As the Boston Globe explains, the asbestos law company encouraged their partners to give money to Democratic campaigns, with their donations later reimbursed by the firm as apparent "bonuses."

This, the Globe notes, appears to have been intended to skirt limits on how much companies can donate to politicians.

The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) reveals Franken was one of the biggest beneficiaries of donations from Thornton Law, receiving $40,821 over several years. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was the biggest single beneficiary, followed U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy and Senate Minority leader Charles Schumer.

Franken is among the Democrats who have returned their donations, with the Star Tribune reporting he paid it to the U.S. Treasury after learning from news reports about the firm reimbursing employees for their donations.

The newspaper notes the law firm donated to Franken's 2008 campaign, when he beat Republican Norm Coleman following a recount. A donation was also made during the 2014 election cycle.

Not everyone has returned the donations however. Those who haven't include Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is the only Republican to have received funding from Thornton partners over the years, the CRP says.

The company denies this wrongdoing, telling the Globe the reimbursements were deducted from each partner's "capital account" – effectively their stake in the company – rather than as bonuses, and argue that this is legal.

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