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Errors in McSally campaign reports add up to millions

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Errors in McSally campaign reports add up to millions

Feds repeatedly cite missing info, incorrect totals

  • McSally on election night in November.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comMcSally on election night in November.

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally has raised a sizable war chest for 2016 — but nowhere near as big as what she has just claimed.

Filings by McSally just don't add up. They have included a pattern of overstating her fundraising, with her latest report showing an apparently phantom total that is $3.3 million more than her actual campaign haul. Federal regulators have repeatedly knocked the Republican's campaign for errors and incomplete reports.

Read an update on this story: McSally refiles reports after Sentinel investigates campaign issues

McSally's latest campaign finance paperwork was filed with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, meeting a July 15 deadline. That filing claimed that McSally has raised a total of $5,633,681 in the current election cycle.

However, her reports only substantiate $2,343,608 in campaign contributions since last November's election, leaving an unexplained difference of $3,290,000.

Patrick Ptak, who wears two hats as spokesman for McSally's campaign and her congressional office, didn't respond to repeated requests for comment Thursday and Friday.

Also Wednesday, McSally missed an FEC deadline to correct her previous filing, which was made in April. Officials sent a letter June 10, giving McSally 35 days to update the report covering the first quarter of 2015 and pointing out numerous errors in her paperwork.

McSally didn't respond to the FEC regarding those errors, and continued to include the extra millions in her latest filing.

Citing a requirement to keep any possible ongoing enforcement processes confidential, commission staffers wouldn't comment regarding her filings. FEC staff can neither confirm nor deny any compliance measures until they are imposed, a spokesman said Thursday.

While the inflated totals don't mean McSally has any extra money to spend, it could mean she might have slightly less — in the unlikely event the FEC were to impose a fine.

The agency generally works to resolve errors without stringent enforcement action. Sources with knowledge of multiple campaign finance operations declined to speculate on what might have gone wrong with McSally's reports, but some pointed that perhaps setting an incorrect election date in her accounting program could have set off the repeated errors.

Big money

In public, McSally has touted round numbers that are reflected in her filings, pointing to her success in pulling in over $1 million in the recent quarter, with about $1.4 million in cash on hand.

"Support for what she's already been able to accomplish is through the roof," said spokesman Patrick Ptak early last week, telling the media that the money was "raised with the help of over 10,000 individual donors, who averaged less than $75 per donation."

The freshman congresswoman has been a dynamo on the fundraising circuit, garnering contributions from political action committees connected to military contractors such as Boeing and Raytheon, as well as those bêtes noires of liberals, the Koch brothers.

Since 2012's special election McSally has received 14 of what the FEC terms "RFAIs" — requests for additional information which are essentially instructions to clean up errors and incomplete filings.

While some came in the early days of her first campaign, steady turnover and her current connection with part of the GOP establishment may play a role in the sloppy record-keeping.

While she's had a number of people in charge of her fundraising, her treasurer is now Athens, Ga., Republican operative Paul Kilgore, whose firm handles campaign funds for nearly 30 members of Congress, three U.S. senators and a wide swath of conservative political action committees. The ex-aide to former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has worked with PACs supporting both Ted Cruz and Rick Perry for president, as well as disgraced ex-Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois, failed Arizona congressional candidate Vernon Parker, and repeat U.S. Senate hopeful Christine O'Donnell of Delaware — the last three of whom each swam in hot water over campaign finance missteps.

McSally has paid Kilgore's firm $8,200 thus far in 2015 to handle her election finances. He signed on as her treasurer at the end of March, FEC records show.

Nine of the RFAIs sent to the Arizona Republican have come in the past year.

At a May deadline to respond to one of the letters, McSally's campaign asked for "more time" to correct numerous errors in a report filed a month after November's election, which had been pointed out in an April FEC letter.

Such letters each state, in bold text, "Failure to adequately respond by the response date noted above could result in an audit or enforcement action," and that "Requests for extensions of time in which to respond will not be considered."

Nevertheless, McSally's campaign responded, "Our committee is aware of the issues detailed in the Commission's letter. We are undertaking an in-house review to determine the appropriate course of action to identify and correct each one of them. Due to the extensive amount of data and documentation involved we are asking for more time to complete this task.  As each period is complete, we will amend the report to correct the public record."

McSally has yet to update that report.

Incomplete donor listings

The FEC has also repeatedly pointed to the McSally campaign's lax efforts at collecting required information from campaign donors. Although candidates are required to disclose the full name, mailing address, occupation and employer of each person who donates more than $200 in an election cycle, McSally has provided no information on the employment of a majority of her itemized donors this year.

In her April filing, covering Jan. 1-March 31, McSally listed only "Information Requested / Information Requested" for 189 of the 269 listed individuals who donated to her election effort. In her most recent report, she did not include employment info on 674 of the 956 donors listed.

Candidates are required to demonstrate that they have made "best efforts" to obtain employment info from donors, including making a follow-up "stand alone" request, without soliciting a further contribution, within 30 days if it is not provided.

In comparison, former U.S. Rep. Ron Barber received just a single RFAI in his campaigns — about one instance in which his campaign was unable to comply with a requirement to disclose contributions within 48 hours of receipt in the days just before an election.

Southern Arizona's other sitting member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, last received an FEC letter in 2011, with just four issued over the past decade — although he has received 20 in all since first campaigning in 2002.

Grand totals

Beginning last year, McSally's campaign finance reports — the equivalent of the tax returns for her election effort — show a pattern of increasing errors, with a "cycle to date" total that is millions of dollars more than the fundraising she breaks down in her filings.

While the basis for the errors doesn't precisely match any other figures from her reports, her campaign appears to be including money raised for her successful 2014 race in the totals for her 2016 fundraising. For congressional candidates, the clock is reset every two years, after each general election — although McSally's situation was complicated by the drawn-out recount process and court fight in the wake of the November polls.

Beginning with a post-general election report, made Dec. 4 (then amended the next day) for the Oct. 16-Nov. 24 period, her filings show just over $2.3 million in total new fundraising through the second quarter of 2015.

But her year-end report (also covering a post-election period, Nov. 25-Dec. 31), filed Jan. 30 and then amended Feb. 10, shows millions more in receipts, with a total "cycle to date" figure of $4,886,476.

Her report covering the first quarter of 2015, filed April 15, includes a total of $4,590,828.

Her most recent filing reports total receipts of $5,633,681, while tallying the itemized figures for what she's reported as her post-election fundraising shows she's brought in a still quite healthy $2,343,608.

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