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FEC fines Franks’ campaign committee $14,000

The Federal Election Commission has fined Rep. Trent Franks’ campaign committee $14,000 for failing to report spending of more than $300,000, mostly on mailings, from 2009 to 2011.

It is the largest fine levied against a congressional candidate in Arizona since 2000, according FEC data.

The error was discovered and reported by the Glendale Republican’s campaign committee, which said in filings with the FEC that it “made every good-faith effort to communicate, correct and comply with the FEC openly and honestly when errors were discovered.”

“We accept full and ultimate responsibility for the unintentional inaccuracies,” Franks’ spokesman Ben Carnes said in an email Friday.

The campaign committee blamed the mistakes on one of its campaign mailing contractors and an unnamed former campaign employee who was not familiar with the FEC process for reporting debts, according to agency documents.

The fine was levied in February against the Committee to Re-Elect Trent Franks and details were released in March after the committee paid the fine.

Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center, said campaign-spending violations are relatively common and that it is not unusual for such violations to linger at the FEC, as Franks’ did.

Ryan said it would be better if the information was released sooner, so voters could know who is funding a campaign before Election Day. But disclosure even after an election is still important, he said.

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“Disclosure does retain its value, even for years after,” Ryan said.

FEC documents said the errors stemmed from miscommunication between Base Connect, a direct-mail fundraising company, and Franks’ campaign staff that began in 2009 and continued through April 2011 when a Base Connect employee discovered it.

The campaign committee corrected its statements to reflect about $299,800 worth of debt and about $12,000 in spending in October to November of that year.

Most of the erroneous reporting occurred during the 2010 election cycle, when Franks reported spending just over $1 million on his re-election. A smaller part of the errors came in the just-ended 2012 election cycle, when Franks reported spending about $400,000.

The $14,000 fine was based on the time lapsed, the dollar amount involved and previous violations: Franks was fined $3,500 in 2003 for a similar violation during his first campaign.

Ryan said reporting your own errors typically results in a smaller fine. But even violators who self-report should be penalized for not disclosing information that could tip an election, he said.

“No violations of these laws should be given a pass,” he said.

Bill Allison, the editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation, agreed because the fines reflect the importance of transparency.

“It tells you how serious it is not to disclose,” he said.

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Stephanie Snyder/Cronkite News Service

The campaign of Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, shown in a 2012 file photo, took 'full and ultimate responsibility for the unintentional inaccuracies' that led to a Federal Election Commission fine. The campaign discovered and reported the error.