Santorum accused of illegally steering $1 million donation to super PAC

August 14, 2013

A campaign finance watchdog has filed a complaint against former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, referring to reports that Santorum or his campaign may have illegally urged a donor to donate $1 million to a super PAC supporting Santorum.

The donor, energy executive William Dore, in a recent interview said he approached Santorum about giving his campaign $1 million. He initially said Santorum urged him to instead give the money to the super PAC, Red White and Blue Fund, which can accept unlimited donations. Santorum's campaign is subject to much lower contribution limits and could not accept such a donation.

Dore later recanted, saying it was Santorum's staff who directed him to give to the super PAC.

The Campaign Legal Center, in its complaint, notes that campaign finance law allows candidates to solicit donations to super PACs, but those solicitations are subject to the same contribution limits as their campaigns. So while Santorum's campaign could tell Dore to contribute a maximum of $5,000 to the super PAC, it cannot urge him to donate $1 million to it.

“Mr. Doré’s account of his interaction with Mr. Santorum and his staff, if true, reveals a clear violation of federal campaign finance law,” said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center.

Santorum spokeswoman Virginia Davis said Santorum did nothing wrong.

"We have not received a copy of the complaint and when we do, we will refer it to our attorney," Davis said. "We are confident that neither Sen. Santorum nor any campaign staff member solicited funds in excess of the federal limits or from sources prohibited under federal law."

Here is a clip from the initial report by the Sunlight Foundation:

When a reporter expressed surprise on hearing that Santorum directed Doré to the super PAC, Doré backtracked. "I don't want to get him in any sort of problem," Doré said. "I would not want to compromise his future."

Doré then suggested that Santorum had asked him to give it to the Republican Party, not the super PAC. When told by a reporter that Santorum would not have suggested the Republican Party because the maximum donation would only be around $30,000, he confirmed that it was the super PAC that was discussed.

In a follow-up interview a few hours after the first one, Doré backtracked further. "After reflecting on that comment, I said to myself: Did he actually tell me that? I don't think he did." He maintained that it was Santorum's aides, not the former senator, who told him about the super PAC.

...

What's legal and what's not rests on a fine distinction: Federal candidates cannot request  -- explicitly or implicitly -- contributions beyond what the law legally permits their campaign committees to receive. But, a donor may voluntarily discuss larger amounts, Ryan said.

Dore wound up contributing $2.25 million to the Red White and Blue Fund.

Santorum, who finished second in the GOP primary last year, is considering another presidential campaign in 2016.

Updated at 2:04 p.m. with comment from Santorum's spokeswoman.

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