Two Pryce PACs Illegal, Watchdog Groups Say

Posted March 14, 2003 at 6:03pm

A campaign finance watchdog group has asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate whether two political action committees started by Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) violate federal contribution limits.

In a complaint filed last week with the FEC, the Center for Responsive Politics and an affiliated group, FEC Watch, alleged that two leadership PACs started by Pryce, who chairs the Republican Conference, made and received contributions that exceed federal limits.

“The law was written to prevent someone from setting up multiple PACs to sidestep contribution limits,” Larry Noble, the center’s executive director, and Paul Sanford, director of FEC Watch, said in a statement. “We urge the FEC to require Representative Pryce’s PACs to act within the law.”

A spokesman for Pryce dismissed the allegations, insisting that the Congresswoman has only one leadership PAC.

Pryce is not the first House leader to come under scrutiny for such activities.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) came under fire shortly before the 2002 elections after Roll Call reported that she had set up two separate leadership PACs that were potentially violating contribution limits.

Nearly 40 key Democratic candidates had received contributions from both PACs for $5,000 each — contributions Pelosi eventually refunded. She also disbanded one of the PACs.

The complaint against Pryce contends that the Value in Electing Women PAC and the Promoting Republicans You Can Elect Project PAC — both with significant ties to Pryce — failed to disclose they were affiliated, as the FEC requires under law. The complaint also seeks action against the campaign committees of eight federal candidates who received and accepted contributions from the two PACs.

The center’s complaint alleges that the PACs contributed in excess of $10,000, the maximum a PAC can give to a candidate each election cycle, to eight separate House candidates since 1999. The complaint also contends that the committees took in more than the maximum $5,000 in one year from at least one individual donor.

But Pryce spokesman Greg Crist maintains that Pryce “has only one leadership PAC” and has broken no laws.

“She’s a strong contributor and supporter of VIEW PAC, but she does not run that. It’s run by a board that controls and directs the funding to various candidates,” he said.

Pryce has “been an active supporter” of VIEW PAC, he added, but she “has no control over where the money goes, or who the board selects to give money.”

Sanford noted that recent public discussions during an FEC hearing addressing potential changes to existing leadership PAC rules underscored that lawmakers cannot operate multiple leadership PACs at the same time.

“There seemed to be pretty clear consensus that they were not going to allow Members to operate two separate leadership PACs, and it’s against that background that we think it’s important for the commission to demonstrate its willingness to enforce that principle,” Sanford said.

Press reports describe Pryce as having launched VIEW PAC in 1997, as a tool to financially assist the campaigns of Republican women running for House seats.

The PRYCE Project PAC also first registered with the FEC in 1997 — originally calling itself the Next American Century PAC but subsequently changing its name to the New American Century PAC in 2000 and finally the PRYCE Project in August 2001.

Barbara Bonfiglio is listed as the treasurer and custodian of records for both PACs.

The complaint contends that Pryce’s two leadership PACs made excessive contributions to the 2000 Republican campaigns of Reps. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Nancy Johnson (Conn.), Anne Northup (Ky.), Heather Wilson (N.M.), then-Rep. Connie Morella (Md.) and others.

The complaint asks the FEC to investigate the matter fully as well as “assess civil penalties” against those who have violated the law. It also asks the FEC to require the refund of any contributions deemed excessive.