Questions for Martha McSally: What’s up with your FEC reports?

Chalkboard with Math ProblemDylan Smith at the Tucson Sentinel has been digging into Congresswoman Martha McSally’s FEC reporting, and finds a disturbing pattern of either gross incompetence or reckless indifference towards campaign finance reporting. There also seems to be some serious GOP “fuzzy math” going on.

Last week Dylan Smith reported Errors in McSally campaign reports add up to millions:

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally has raised a sizable war chest for 2016 — but nowhere near as big as what she has just claimed.

Filings by McSally just don’t add up. They have included a pattern of overstating her fundraising, with her latest report showing an apparently phantom total that is $3.3 million more than her actual campaign haul. Federal regulators have repeatedly knocked the Republican’s campaign for errors and incomplete reports.

McSally’s latest campaign finance paperwork was filed with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, meeting a July 15 deadline. That filing claimed that McSally has raised a total of $5,633,681 in the current election cycle.

However, her reports only substantiate $2,343,608 in campaign contributions since last November’s election, leaving an unexplained difference of $3,290,000.

That’s some serious GOP “fuzzy math.” Is it possible that Rep. Paul Ryan’s dynamic scoring is now being used to create imaginary windfalls for GOP politicians in addition to his fantasy GOP budget numbers?

Also Wednesday, McSally missed an FEC deadline to correct her previous filing, which was made in April. Officials sent a letter June 10, giving McSally 35 days to update the report covering the first quarter of 2015 and pointing out numerous errors in her paperwork.

McSally didn’t respond to the FEC regarding those errors, and continued to include the extra millions in her latest filing.

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Since 2012’s special election McSally has received 14 of what the FEC terms “RFAIs” — requests for additional information which are essentially instructions to clean up errors and incomplete filings.

Sooo . . . McSally’s refusal to competently and accurately follow campaign finance laws dates back to her first days as a politician. And she has yet to figure it out.

While some came in the early days of her first campaign, steady turnover and her current connection with part of the GOP establishment may play a role in the sloppy record-keeping.

While she’s had a number of people in charge of her fundraising, her treasurer is now Athens, Ga., Republican operative Paul Kilgore, whose firm handles campaign funds for nearly 30 members of Congress, three U.S. senators and a wide swath of conservative political action committees. The ex-aide to former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has worked with PACs supporting both Ted Cruz and Rick Perry for president, as well as disgraced ex-Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois, failed Arizona congressional candidate Vernon Parker, and repeat U.S. Senate hopeful Christine O’Donnell of Delaware — the last three of whom each swam in hot water over campaign finance missteps.

McSally has paid Kilgore’s firm $8,200 thus far in 2015 to handle her election finances. He signed on as her treasurer at the end of March, FEC records show.

Nine of the RFAIs sent to the Arizona Republican have come in the past year.

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The FEC has also repeatedly pointed to the McSally campaign’s lax efforts at collecting required information from campaign donors. Although candidates are required to disclose the full name, mailing address, occupation and employer of each person who donates more than $200 in an election cycle, McSally has provided no information on the employment of a majority of her itemized donors this year.

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In her April filing, covering Jan. 1-March 31, McSally listed only “Information Requested / Information Requested” for 189 of the 269 listed individuals who donated to her election effort. In her most recent report, she did not include employment info on 674 of the 956 donors listed.

Candidates are required to demonstrate that they have made “best efforts” to obtain employment info from donors, including making a follow-up “stand alone” request, without soliciting a further contribution, within 30 days if it is not provided.

In comparison, former U.S. Rep. Ron Barber received just a single RFAI in his campaigns — about one instance in which his campaign was unable to comply with a requirement to disclose contributions within 48 hours of receipt in the days just before an election.

Southern Arizona’s other sitting member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, last received an FEC letter in 2011, with just four issued over the past decade — although he has received 20 in all since first campaigning in 2002.

After the Tucson Sentinel published this report, the McSally campaign filed an amended report to correct its GOP “fuzzy math” in response, but again failed to provide the required information from campaign donors in response to the numerous “RFAIs” from the FEC.

Dylan Smith did a follow-up report. McSally refiles reports after Sentinel investigates campaign issues:

After TucsonSentinel.com reported last week on millions of dollars in errors in the campaign filings of U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, the freshman Republican handed in new tallies of her fundraising to federal officials on Monday. While her totals now add up, hundreds of information gaps remain.

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Her campaign treasurer turned in two amended reports Monday, fixing the totals in the filings but not filling in hundreds of missing pieces of information — some that FEC regulators had noted months ago.

The re-done reports cover McSally’s efforts to add to her campaign war chest for 2016 — totals were corrected on a filing from April and one turned in at a deadline last Wednesday. The congresswoman missed an FEC deadline that same day to provide a corrected report from April.

Not yet corrected are other reports pointed out by the FEC. Nor did McSally provide required info on the occupation and employer of a majority of her donors — an issue that FEC staffers have repeatedly pointed to over the 14 letters they have sent her campaign.

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The FEC has also repeatedly pointed to the McSally campaign’s lax efforts at collecting required information from campaign donors. Although candidates are required to disclose the full name, mailing address, occupation and employer of each person who donates more than $200 in an election cycle, McSally has provided no information on the employment of a majority of her itemized donors this year.

In her amended April filing, covering Jan. 1-March 31, McSally listed only “Information Requested / Information Requested” for 170 of the 271 listed individuals who donated to her election effort. In her amended July report, she did not include employment info on 674 of the 956 donors listed.

As a lawyer who has advised candidates on campaign finance compliance in the past, my initial reaction to this reporting was “holy crap!” This does not appear to me to be “best efforts” to obtain required information from campaign donors, especially after the number of outstanding “RFAIs” from the FEC.

This Republican operative Paul Kilgore, whose firm handles campaign funds for numerous Republican candidates including Martha McSally, cannot possibly be this sloppy or he would not have this number of clients and would not stay in business for very long. This inability to provide campaign donor information has to originate with the McSally campaign itself.

Even the folks in Washington, D.C. have taken notice of this. The Hill reported, McSally campaign acknowledges fundraising errors:

Rep. Martha McSally’s campaign said Friday “clerical errors” caused the campaign to report milions of dollars more on Federal Election Commission filings than the campaign actually raised during the 2016 campaign cycle.

McSally’s reported $5.6 milion sum would have put the freshman Republican Congresswoman from Arizona well above her House colleagues and square in the middle of the presidential field.

But the FEC, which has had several questions on the accuracy of numbers in her previous filings, notes the Arizona Republican’s total contributions on its website as $1.69 million – a combination of the $1.05 million she reported raising the second quarter, April through June, and $644,000 raised the first quarter.

The Tucson Sentinel first reported on the latest filing discrepancy.

Weston McKee, McSally’s campaign manager, told The Hill in a statement that while the aggregate numbers are “inaccurate due to past filing errors,” the quarterly fundraising figures are accurate.

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McSally’s FEC filings since she began her political career in 2012 show 14 separate letters by the FEC questioning the accuracy of some numbers. The FEC has not filed any inquiry into her July filing, which has only been public for a few days.

The latest FEC inquiry into her April filing gave her until July 15 to correct a number of potential discrepancies in that report.  The commission identifies 19 potential inaccurate figures, including her net contributions number, on that report. The FEC has not posted any response to those concerns on its website by Friday, a few days after that deadline.

One of those potentially incorrect numbers noted by the FEC was her total receipts from the 2016 cycle. Despite noting that she only raised $644,000 in the first three months of the year, her year to date figure was at $4.6 million.

It’s possible that the campaign mistakenly included much of its haul from the 2014 campaign in that calculation, when it raised about $4.8 million.

The Hill also did a follow-up report on McSally’s amended filing. McSally amends fundraising filings:

Rep. Martha McSally’s campaign amended fundraising reports for the last six months on Monday after reports that the campaign misstated millions of dollars of donations.

“Acting on behalf of the McSally Campaign, we filed amendments to the campaign’s Q1 and Q2 quarterly reports to more accurately reflect the cycle to date figure,” campaign treasurer Paul Kilgore told The Hill exclusively in a statement.

“The goal is to acknowledge clerical errors made on past reporting and, in working with the [Federal Election Commission], move as swiftly as possible to correct them. We will continue to work diligently toward that end.”

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A campaign aide also told The Hill Monday that the team has hired Elizabeth Beacham of the Clark Hill law firm in order to “ensure FEC compliance and help correct past errors.” Beachem formerly worked with the FEC.

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The freshman Arizona congresswoman has been dogged by FEC inquiries since she first ran for office in 2012. The FEC has formally requested clarification on her figures 14 times, all before this latest discrepancy. Most of those requests came before Kilgore took over as treasurer.

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McSally raised $1.05 million last fundraising quarter and $644,000 for the first three months of the year. But instead of reporting the $1.69 million for the aggregate total of the year, the campaign reported $5.6 million in total donations over the first six months of the campaign.

Had that number been accurate, it would have outpaced every single member of Congress and put her in good company in the GOP presidential race.

Yep, more GOP “fuzzy math.” Remember folks, this is someone in charge of your tax dollars, and she cannot accurately account for her own money.

Something else Dylan Smith reported caught my attention: “Patrick Ptak, who wears two hats as spokesman for McSally’s campaign and her congressional office…” Is Ptak getting a paycheck for his official duties as a congressional staffer while moonlighting as as spokesman for McSally’s campaign? Campaign Work by House Employees | House Committee on Ethics:

Campaign Work by House Employees Outside the Congressional Office and on Their Own Time

Once House employees have completed their official duties, they are free to engage in campaign activities on their own time, as volunteers or for pay, as long as they do not do so in congressional offices or facilities, or otherwise use official resources.  Executive branch personnel are subject to restrictions on partisan political activity by the Hatch Act (5 U.S.C. § 7321 et seq.), but those restrictions do not apply to congressional employees.

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Requirement That Each Employee Perform Duties Commensurate With Compensation.

Under House Rule XXIII, clause 8 a Member is always responsible for ensuring that each of his or her employees performs official duties that are commensurate with the compensation that the employee receives from the House.  Thus when it is anticipated that an employee will be assuming significant campaign duties, it may be necessary for the employing Member to make an appropriate reduction in the employee’s House pay.

Certainly an appropriate reduction in salary is necessary when a full-time employee goes to part-time status in the congressional office in order to do campaign work.  Members and staff should also bear in mind that bonuses, including “lump sum” payments, are for the performance of official duties only, and they are not to serve as compensation or a reward for campaign work.

More questions for Martha McSally.

One response to “Questions for Martha McSally: What’s up with your FEC reports?

  1. Typical Republican disdain for transparency and disclosure. Victoria Steele should hit McSally hard on her creative accounting.