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McSally refiles reports after Sentinel investigates campaign issues

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McSally refiles reports after Sentinel investigates campaign issues

Feds cited missing info, incorrect totals

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

After reported last week on millions of dollars in errors in the campaign filings of U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, the freshman Republican handed in new tallies of her fundraising to federal officials on Monday. While her totals now add up, hundreds of information gaps remain.

McSally's required finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission showed totals that for months were overstated by as much as $3.3 million.

Her campaign treasurer turned in two amended reports Monday, fixing the totals in the filings but not filling in hundreds of missing pieces of information — some that FEC regulators had noted months ago.

The re-done reports cover McSally's efforts to add to her campaign war chest for 2016 —  totals were corrected on a filing from April and one turned in at a deadline last Wednesday. The congresswoman missed an FEC deadline that same day to provide a corrected report from April.

Not yet corrected are other reports pointed out by the FEC. Nor did McSally provide required info on the occupation and employer of a majority of her donors — an issue that FEC staffers have repeatedly pointed to over the 14 letters they have sent her campaign.

Phantom totals

McSally's original July 15 report, covering the period April 1-June 30, showed an apparently phantom total that was $3.3 million more than her actual campaign haul. Federal regulators have repeatedly knocked the her campaign for errors and incomplete reports.

That filing claimed that McSally has raised a total of $5,633,681 in the current election cycle. However, her reports only substantiate $2.3 million 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 on the issues with her reports.

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 last week.

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."

Prior to reporting on her campaign finance issues, McSally had yet to amend that April 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 amended April filing, covering Jan. 1-March 31, McSally listed only "Information Requested / Information Requested" for 170 of the 271 listed individuals who donated to her election effort. In her amended July 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 — regarding 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.

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