Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Jeb Bush Super-PAC Fined $200,000 for Campaign Finance Violation

November 21, 2018 Ken Doyle
  • Presidential hopeful’s PAC late to report $10 million in ads
  • Former Florida governor dropped out of White House contest

The super-political action committee that supported Jeb Bush’s unsuccessful presidential primary bid agreed to pay a $200,000 fine to the Federal Election Commission for failing to report almost $10 million in spending for campaign ads.

The super-PAC, called Right to Rise, didn’t file required independent expenditure reports for television ad buys before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries in early 2016, according to documents released by the commission.

The Bush super-PAC raised and spent more than $100 million, but the former Florida governor from the prominent political family dropped out after poor showings in those early contests.

Numerous complaints involving 2016 presidential super-PACs remain unresolved at the commission as the 2020 presidential election cycle gets under way. Among them are allegations that Bush and other 2016 candidates broke the law by raising tens of millions of dollars for allied super-PACs before officially declaring their candidacy.

Super-PACs and other outside campaign spending groups are legally required to remain separate from the candidates they support, but the lines between candidates and outside groups have steadily eroded as campaign spending exploded after the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

Court rulings allowed outside groups to take unlimited contributions, including corporate and union money, to influence elections; candidate contributions remain limited to $2,700 per election for each individual donor.

`Administrative Oversight’

FEC rules require super-PACs and other outside spending groups to report large independent expenditures within 24 or 48 hours, depending on how close to the election they’re made. The Bush super-PAC’s spending involved in the case took place in January 2016 but wasn’t reported until February, after the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.

The super-PAC contended the reporting failure was due to an “administrative oversight,” according to a conciliation agreement with the commission. Seven disbursements totaling more than $9.6 million were listed on a single invoice that was overlooked in the FEC reporting process, it said. The amount was a “small percentage” of a total of almost $87 million in independent expenditures, the super-PAC said.

The settlement was signed on behalf of Right to Rise by attorney Charles Spies, who served as the super-PAC’s treasurer. Spies declined to comment on the matter.

Union Fined

In a separate matter, the FEC fined a Plumbers Union local based in New Jersey $92,650 for collecting PAC contributions from union members through payroll deductions without permission or proper documentation.

In addition to the fine, a settlement called for the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union No. 9 to reimburse almost $2.4 million in contributions made by 1,310 members from 2012 to 2017, unless the union members agree to give their money to the PAC.

The union failed to obtain written authorizations from most members, who are required to show their PAC contributions were made voluntarily. Instead, the union said it orally informed members they could opt out, according to a conciliation agreement.

Written authorizations were obtained from some members but were inadequate because they didn’t contain the required notice that PAC contributions are voluntary and that reprisals against those who don’t contribute are illegal.

Michael Maloney, the business manager of the local union, said in a phone interview that the violation “was a clerical error.”

“Does the punishment fit the crime?” he asked.

Maloney said he expected 99.9 percent of the union members to sign authorization forms approving their PAC contributions, adding that only about $30,000 in contributions might have to be reimbursed.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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