A complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission by New Hampshire and Alabama Democrats alleges that Romney used PACs in those states as “shell operations” to fund a de facto presidential operation before declaring his candidacy. The Democrats also point to an Alabama news report alleging that the activities have continued in violation of federal law.
“Romney has engaged in the evident subterfuge of using state laws not for the state election-related purposes for which they were enacted, but to advance his Federal candidacy with the aid of ‘soft money,’” the complaint reads. “He has misled the authorities of those states, filing reports of ‘state’ activities which were never bona fide state activities in the first instance.”
The Romney campaign said the former Massachusetts governor has not been affiliated with any of his state PACs since beginning his exploratory campaign earlier this year.
“This is just another pathetic attempt to distract from President Obama’s disastrous fiscal policies and abysmal jobs record,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Paul. “Democrats will continue to recycle the same meritless complaints between now and election day because they are intimidated by Mitt Romney’s candidacy and his ability to make Barack Obama a one-term president.”
Romney has long had a well-known and extensive network of state-level PACs that doled out campaign contributions and paid for overhead costs prior to his formal declaration of candidacy earlier this year. Romney employed a similar strategy prior to his failed 2008 presidential bid, and other GOP candidates have done the same.
In 2010, Romney raised more than $6 million through five state PACs, which are not bound by the same restrictions as a federal-level PAC. One South Dakota couple gave Romney a total of $190,000 in a single day spread through his state committees.
Campaign-finance experts say all of this is perfectly legal as long as Romney has not formally declared his intent to run for president. Candidates are required to begin reporting contributions to the FEC only after they have reached a formal “testing-the-waters” stage that includes formation of an exploratory committee.
Brett Kappel, a Democratic campaign finance lawyer who represents clients from both parties, said a majority of FEC members have made clear they will not find a violation of that rule until a candidate has made a “clear and unambiguous statement that they are running for a specific federal office.”
“Until that happens they are not a ‘candidate’ and their federal leadership PAC or state PACs can pay for their travel and other expenses,” he wrote in an e-mail.
New Hampshire Democrats first filed an FEC complaint about Romney’s use of a local PAC in April; the new complaint adds Romney’s Alabama PAC to the allegations.
The complaint notes that none of the contributions to Romney’s Alabama-based PAC came from donors in the state, and that the committee has reported spending only about 5 percent of the contributions on local races.
Mark Kennedy, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, said in a conference call with reporters that Romney was “engaged in a multi-state scheme to evade campaign finance laws.”
Democrats say Romney has not properly severed ties with his Alabama and New Hampshire committees as required under FEC rules. They also say they will appeal the case to the federal courts if there is no action from the FEC, which frequently deadlocks along partisan lines.