New Hampshire Democrats lodged a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Mitt Romney Friday, alleging the Republican presidential hopeful violated campaign laws by utilizing state political action committees (PACs) to fund his presidential campaign.
The complaint points to media accounts (here, here, and here) of the Byzantine finance structure of Romney’s PACs as evidence that the former Massachusetts governor was funneling money raised by the loosely restricted state organizations to fund his presidential campaign activities.
Romney established an exploratory committee with the FEC on April 11. Before that, he was using money raised from his PACs to make visits to key nominating states and pay staff salaries.
Romney’s campaign has said the multi-PAC structure was a transparent and legal approach to funding typical political activities. But in the Friday complaint, New Hampshire Democrats said that individuals made donations to the state PACs with the intent to fund Romney’s presidential campaign, and that constituted a violation of campaign finance laws.
“Romney’s funneling of campaign contributions from his array of state political action committees to fund his presidential campaign reeks of an Enron-style accounting scheme,” said Holly Shulman, communications director of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.
Among the 2012 contenders, Romney made the most energetic use of state PACs, a tactic that helped him raise more than $9 million in large- and small-dollar contributions in the last election cycle. His campaign activities are now financed by his exploratory committee.
State PACs are not subject to the same contribution limits that regulate federal committees. In New Hampshire and Alabama, for example, corporate contributions are permitted. In Iowa, individuals can make unlimited contributions.
“The complaint raises some legitimate questions and concerns that warrant a closer look by the FEC,” said Paul S. Ryan, an election law analyst at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.
Andrea Saul, a spokesperson for the Romney campaign, dismissed the complaint as “totally political.”
“For those wondering what the Obama jobs plan entails, it apparently involves hiring more lawyers at the FEC to handle frivolous complaints filed by his minions," Saul said.
Romney was not alone in taking advantage of states with loose campaign finance regulations. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour also set up a network of state PACs as he contemplated a presidential bid last year.
And the Republican Governors Assn., under Barbour’s leadership, employed what campaign finance lawyers called one of the most aggressive uses of state PACs in the 2010 election cycle. The group moved corporate money from states that banned corporate contributions to political candidates and put it into states with no such restrictions.
Ryan, who authored a report on the porous financing of the “pre-candidacy” activity of presidential candidates, said the issue has resonance beyond the Romney campaign.
“This type of evasion of federal contribution limits has been engaged in by Democrats and Republicans alike for decades,” Ryan said. “It’s disappointing that it’s being characterized as no more than a political move. It’s a bigger issue and more important issue than partisan politics.”