Democrats file FEC complaint against RNC chairman Steele and Michigan GOP

Gautham Nagesh Contributor
Font Size:

Michigan Democrats filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday following a Daily Caller report last week that the state’s Republican party allegedly conspired with Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele to circumvent federal campaign finance limits.

The complaint alleges Michigan Republican State Committee chairman Ron Weiser and Steele “have knowingly and willfully violated the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) by soliciting and receiving individual contributions which exceed the individual limits set forth in the FECA.” Last week The Daily Caller reported that Steele and Weiser made a deal to funnel contributions from large Michigan donors through the RNC and back into the state party’s coffers.

Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said following the report his office investigated the donations and found that four of the 15 individuals had not previously donated to the RNC, and another had never given the maximum $30,400 donation. The complaint alleges that the 17 donors who contributed the maximum amount in final weeks of 2009 did so in order to evade the limit on contributions to the state party for federal races.

“These donors are just as responsible as Weiser and Steele,” Brewer said. “Many of these contributors had never given the maximum donation to the RNC until this illegal scheme was hatched. It’s clear the FECA was violated.”

When contacted the RNC spokesman Leroy Coleman sent the following: “While we have not seen their complaint, we are confident this is just another case of political grandstanding. While they waste the FEC’s time at taxpayers’ expense, our focus is and will remain on winning elections this fall.”

According to sources and FEC reports, the transfer of hundreds of thousands in funds between the two organizations was the result of a deal struck last year stipulating that if the Michigan Republican Party could raise what turned out to be more than half a million dollars for the RNC from its donors, the committee would immediately give the money back.

“It was a known secret that a deal had been struck on the topic,” a former RNC official confirmed to The Daily Caller.

Michigan state law allows individuals to donate an unlimited amount to political parties, though contributors who give to the party are subjected to federal campaign laws that restrict spending on federal races to $10,000 per year, per individual.

In total, the donors named in the complaint gave more than $500,000 to the RNC before the end of the year. During the next two months, $500,000 was disbursed back from the RNC’s coffers to those of the Michigan Republican Party, with $250,000 given in January and another $250,000 disbursed in February. Last week a former RNC official told The Daily Caller the RNC wired an additional $160,000 to the Michigan GOP immediately before the story broke. Neither party would confirm the transaction and the Michigan Republican State Committee did not respond to multiple requests to explain what the money would be used for.

No other state received a comparable amount from the RNC during that time span; Delaware was the next highest at $129,800 in cash and in-kind equipment. A Republican strategist in Michigan said there have been no races or other activity that would prompt the national party to transfer such a large amount of money to the state party. On the contrary, he said that many local and county party officials have been upset the lack of financial support from Weiser and the state party.

“There’s no specific activity going on in Michigan right now that would suggest that this type of money is being spent,” the strategist said.

Brewer said the complaint was sent to the FEC this afternoon and that he expects it to prompt an investigation. FEC spokesman Christian Hilland said the commission has not yet formally received the filing but according to the agency’s web site, once the commission receives the complaint it will send a copy to the accused, giving them 15 days to respond. The commission then evaluates the complaint, voting on whether to proceed with an investigation. If the commission finds that the RNC or Michigan GOP violated the law they could face fines in proportion to the amount of money that was illegally re-routed.

The Daily Caller reported last week that 15 donors from Michigan maxed out on the final day of 2009; Brewer said his staff uncovered two more names that they believe are involved. The Republican donors listed in the complaint include: Albert and Paula Berriz, Calvin College President Gaylen Byker, Thomas and Vicki Celani, Michael and Kellie Ferrantino, Michael and Susan Jandernoa, John and Nancy Kennedy, Robert and Joyce Lynas, William Parfet, Robert Thompson, and William and Vivienne Young.

The Daily Caller has been unable to reach the donors, who either declined to speak or did not return messages asking for comment.

E-mail Gautham or Alex. Follow them both on Twitter.