Suplex on a straw man: Linda McMahon, the FEC and disclosure

Another unsatisfied customer: Linda McMahon's campaign did not like this morning's story about the level of disclosure in the campaign expenditure report she filed back in October with the FEC. The campaign released a statement this morning from its attorney, Michael Toner, calling the story "erroneous."

Well, it isn't. And Toner's statement is a vigorous demolition of a straw man, not a response to the questions that gave rise to the article. Here's Toner's statement in its entirety:

"The McMahon Campaign has fully complied with all FEC reporting regulations and reported the in-kind contributions exactly as the FEC prescribes in its published materials. In fact, the McMahon Campaign has gone beyond the FEC's reporting requirements by identifying all of its donors, even those who contribute under $200 to the campaign. The FEC thoroughly reviews every federal campaign's disclosure reports and notifies campaigns in writing if the FEC has any questions about the reports; the FEC has not sent any such correspondence to the McMahon Campaign about its FEC report. There is absolutely no basis for this story."

The point of the story is not whether Linda McMahon has done a proper job keeping tabs on the amount of in-kind contributions she has made to her campaign, or whether the FEC thinks it did. What we were asking about -- the questions the McMahon campaign refused to address with us over the past week, until the story appeared this morning -- is why McMahon has made roughly a quarter of its campaign expenditures not through the campaign, which would have resulted in disclosure of the people and firms it's paying, but through McMahon's own funds.

There may be perfectly legitimate reasons to run a campaign this way, though when we asked the McMahon campaign to explain them, beginning last Friday, they never offered any. But one of the effects of this is that McMahon is disclosing less about the identities of the people and companies she's paying than other candidates are.

So Toner's not having received a letter from the FEC questioning the campaign's accounting of in-kind contributions is great, but only as far as it goes. But we called the FEC with a different question: is it okay for a wealthy candidate to charge more than $500,000 in campaign expenses to her personal account, preventing the public disclosure of the identity of her campaign's lawyers, consultants, computer technicians -- the sort of information that other candidates who pay for those services out of their campaign accounts are forced to disclose?

And, as you can see in the story, the FEC spokesman we talked to was pretty straightforward: That's not how this system is supposed to work.

The issue isn't whether the campaign has accurately totaled the value of the in-kind contributions McMahon has made to her campaign. The issue is whether the campaign believes the public deserves to know who she is paying to guide and shape her campaign for the U.S. Senate, just like other candidates. And as of 11:30, they haven't provided an answer to that question.


Update: E-mailing this morning with McMahon spokesman Ed Patru, who said that the campaign does not intend to file any amendments to its October report to specify the unnamed recipients of its campaign cash, since they believe the in-kind contributions were properly accounted for. "Why would we amend or re-file something that without question is filed correctly?" Patru said.


Patru also confirmed a question I had about Toner, a former FEC chairman: he is compensated for his legal work for the McMahon campaign. I asked because FEC regulations allow campaigns to accept free legal counsel, if that counsel is limited exclusively to advice about compliance with FEC issues. Toner isn't retained under that exemption, so he could be the person or firm who received three installments of a little over $5,000 during the third quarter of this year from McMahon for "legal consulting." Or that could be someone else. The point of disclosure is that campaigns are supposed to make these details clear to the public in their campaign reports. Because of the method through which the McMahon campaign has been paying a large percentage of its expenses, these details currently aren't clear at all to the public or the press. That's the issue here.

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