NRCC Complaint: Two Members Violating Law

Posted September 30, 2008 at 5:40pm

The National Republican Congressional Committee has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) and Mike Thompson (Calif.) are using three political action committees to circumvent contribution limits in order to receive and dole out excessive amounts of campaign cash in violation of fundraising laws.

The NRCC is asking the FEC to open an investigation into its claims that Wasserman Schultz and Thompson are each essentially running twin leadership PACs — their own individual PACs and a shared committee called the Democratic Freshmen Political Action Committee — which they are using to double up on fundraising dollars and exceed contribution limits.

The complaint, filed Sept. 25, notes that along with overseeing their own PACs, Wasserman Schultz and Thompson are both listed on the Democratic Freshmen PAC’s Web page as honorary co-chairmen.

Wasserman Schultz and Thompson are two high-profile fundraisers in the Democratic Caucus, and both have been mentioned to possibly take over the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee when Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) steps down from that role.

The NRCC argues that Wasserman Schultz and Thompson are using Democratic Freshmen “as nothing more than a vehicle for excessive contributions” and that further evidence of wrongdoing can be found in donor and contribution lists of the three PACs that “all but mirror one another.” The complaint argues that Wasserman Schultz and Thompson’s individual PACs and Democratic Freshmen should be considered “affiliated” by FEC standards, which means they would be required to share a joint contribution limit.

It’s an argument that Republicans have found success with in the past.

Back in 2002, a political committee controlled by now-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) shut down its operations and asked nearly 40 Democratic candidates to return contributions amid legal questions prompted by its similarity to a second Pelosi committee. In that case, Team Majority’s apparent connection to a second political action committee, PAC to the Future, had triggered questions about whether the two PACs could be considered affiliated under federal election guidelines.

But spokesmen for both Wasserman Schultz and Thompson said this week that while their bosses have been listed as honorary chairmen of the committee, they do not play a management role when it comes to Democratic Freshmen, and as such they are not breaking any FEC laws.

Jim Smith, who is officially listed as the treasurer of Democratic Freshmen, according to FEC reports, said he established Democratic Freshmen PAC in 2007 as an independent PAC “to assist freshman Democrats in tight races,” and he said that since establishing the PAC, “dozens of Members of Congress have been helpful in this effort.” Smith, a partner at American Continental Group and former deputy finance director at the DCCC in the 1980s, added that “Democratic Freshmen PAC, which I control and manage, is legally independent and clearly not affiliated with any other PACs or candidates in accordance with FEC rules.”

Thompson spokeswoman Laurel Brown called the complaint by the NRCC “a political stunt” and added that “Congressman Thompson has never been involved in the management of Democratic Freshmen PAC, and we’re confident this complaint will be found to have no merit.”

“Down in the polls and devoid of ideas, the Republicans are left with little more than smear and slander,” said Jonathan Beeton, a spokesman for Wasserman Schultz. “This is nothing more than an attack on Democrats, whose operations are running circles around the Republicans. The facts will bear us out.”