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Members Learn That Fundraising Mistakes Can Be Costly

Some members of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s (D-Ill.) campaign staff recently learned a lesson in right — and wrong — campaign practices when they mistakenly turned a 2002 book-signing event for the Congressman into a campaign fundraiser.

“The person who put the event on was asked to do a book-signing event, which he did,” explained Jackson Press Secretary Frank Watkins. “He thought he would be doing [Jackson] a favor if he also made it a fundraising event.”

House rules and campaign finance law strictly prohibit commingling campaign activities with private outside business matters.

Watkins said the person who arranged the dual-purpose event was not familiar with the regulations.

After Jackson’s latest tome, “A More Perfect Union: Advancing New American Rights,” was published in late 2001, Jackson traveled the country in early 2002 on a book-signing tour.

Watkins — also a contributor to the 20-chapter book on political and racial issues — said that Jackson believed the Jan. 11, 2002, book-signing event would be just that.

He was stunned, however, when he later discovered that those who attended had been asked to make contributions to his campaign committee.

FEC documents corroborate that version of events: “A supporter of [Jackson] who collected and forwarded the contribution, later issued a statement assuming full responsibility for the event and acknowledged his errors in arranging the joint book promotion and fundraiser.”

“The Congressman took the matter before the appropriate bodies and got the matter corrected as quickly as possible,” Watkins explained.

Through the FEC’s Alternative Dispute Resolution program Jackson reached an agreement with the FEC to refund about $5,000 in contributions associated with the event as well as require the campaign aides who made the errors to attend an FEC seminar on candidates’ committees.

While Jackson got off cheaply, the latest campaign finance reports indicate that other candidates and lawmakers have been paying a heavy toll for their own campaign finance compliance.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) reported paying his lawyer Leslie Kerman $9,971 in legal fees in December. She previously had received $15,410 in legal fees from Moran in June 2001, according to his campaign finance reports.

Kerman represented Moran when a $25,000 loan he received in 1999 from a personal friend and Schering-Plough lobbyist Terry Lierman came under scrutiny.

Following a spate of articles on the loan and criticism from outside public interest groups, the Justice Department opened a preliminary inquiry into the matter but closed its case with no finding of wrongdoing in 2001.

Some candidates — such as Wisconsin GOP House candidate John Sharpless — are blunt about the costs of doing business. A professor of history at the University of Wisconsin and an unsuccessful House candidate in 2000, Sharpless listed in his campaign filings a $1,000 payment to the FEC last December for what he called a “required spanking.”

His campaign, it turns out, had been audited by the FEC in 2001. Sharpless could not be reached for comment on his amusing choice of words.

Other lawmakers have been paying even heftier bills for campaign-related or other politically related legal matters.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) — who for several years has been involved in a lawsuit against Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) —disclosed spending more than $76,000 in legal fees in December.

Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) disclosed paying $31,500 in legal fees to a Wisconsin law firm last December on his latest FEC report, while former Rep. Ben Gilman (R-N.Y.) disclosed $9,800 in legal fees that his campaign paid last December. An aide said the payment was simply to pay off year-end legal fees for standard compliance issues.

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