Dems keep spotlight on McSally campaign filings
Ranked 14th in U.S. in non-disclosure of 2014 donor info
A local Democratic activist has complained to federal regulators about hundreds of pieces of missing information in campaign finance papers filed by U.S. Rep. Martha McSally. The statement sent to the Federal Election Commission follows TucsonSentinel.com's reporting last month on McSally's incomplete filings.
Delores Grayam signed a complaint on Friday, asking the FEC to investigate and fine McSally's campaign. The four-page complaint repeatedly cited Sentinel reporting last month on the hundreds of missing pieces of information regarding donations to McSally's reelection effort.
McSally has failed to provide required information on the occupations and employers of more than two-thirds of her donations this year — an even worse record than in the 2014 election cycle, when she was among those least likely to disclose information of all major congressional candidates in the country.
The complaint was notarized by longtime Democratic activist Martin Bacal. Grayam, the former owner of a outdoor fountain store, is an ex-director of the Tucson Civil Rights Coalition and a frequent booster of Democratic candidates.
While the complaint was based largely on our reporting, no one from the Democratic Party contacted TucsonSentinel.com regarding it prior to the filing. A Phoenix TV reporter was tipped about the complaint, but did not report the source of the info it contained.
While a series of online commenters not too familiar with political process fulminated about the filing, it's unlikely to have any practical effect other than to provide a platform for political press releases.
The complaint only pointed to information already well-known to the FEC, which has already sent letters to McSally's campaign regarding many of the issues. FEC staffers are prohibited from commenting on ongoing enforcement efforts, or even confirming that they are underway, until a resolution is reached.
Weston McKee, campaign manager for the freshman Republican, refused to answer questions about the complaint, pointing to earlier accounts prompted by the Sentinel's breaking of the story and noting that it "seems to be the same story from two weeks ago."
The local Democratic Party seized the opportunity.
"We are not sure if Rep. McSally and her campaign are simply negligent, have a complete disregard for the law or if they have some secrets to hide about who is funding her multi-million dollar operation," said Pima Dems head Shasta McManus.
Missing donor info
While McSally quickly cleared up a $3.3 million error in her campaign accounting after the Sentinel reported it last month, her filings still contain hundreds of pieces of missing information on donors — many of which FEC regulators noted months ago.
FEC staffers have repeatedly pointed to McSally's lax efforts to provide donor info over the 14 letters they have sent her campaign, and she has missed deadlines to correct her filings.
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.
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.
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.
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 TucsonSentinel.com reporting on her campaign finance issues, McSally had yet to amend that April report.
14th in non-disclosure
In the just-concluded 2014 election cycle, McSally was near the top of the list of all candidates for incomplete disclosure of information about campaign donors.
Among all candidates who raised more than $100,000, whether they made it past the primary or not, McSally was 14th on a list of those who failed to provide the required info. She didn't include data on 29 percent of the funds she raised, with $685,000 rated "none" and $67,000 rated "incomplete" for disclosure by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
She ranked 8th worst in disclosure among the hundreds of candidates who ran in the November general election.
McSally disclosed full info on about $1.8 million of her campaign haul for 2014, according to the center, which runs the website OpenSecrets.org.
She topped the non-disclosure list of all Arizona candidates who were nominated, although Phoenix-area congressional aspirant Vernon Parker filed even less info, with just 48 percent full disclosure.
All other Arizona candidates topped 90 percent in their disclosure ratings from the center, with most under $10,000 for which information was not complete.
FEC staff have repeatedly declined to comment on McSally's campaign finance issues.
"To protect the interests of those involved in a complaint, the law requires that any commission action on an enforcement matter be kept strictly confidential until the case has been resolved," said spokesman Christian Hilland when questioned about the recent complaint.
Hilland noted that the FEC "uses a variety of methods to uncover possible election law violations," including analysts who "conduct detailed examinations" of campaign reports and request additional info.
"Committees' failure to respond or respond adequately may lead to additional enforcement action by the commission such as an audit at the end of an election cycle," he said.
The FEC also may investigate based on complaints such as the one filed by Grayam. The timeline for investigations can be six months or longer.
"If the commission finds that a violation occurred, possible outcomes can range from a letter reiterating compliance obligations to a conciliation agreement, which may include a monetary civil penalty," Hilland said.