Romney State PACs in Hot Water

Mitt Romney, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, is running for president. The FEC needs to figure out how long he's been doing that.James Burgher/Zuma

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


If the Federal Election Commission manages to rise the challenge, Mitt Romney’s campaign could be forced to answer some tough questions about its fundraising strategy.

On Thursday, the Alabama Democratic Party joined a complaint against Romney filed with the Federal Election Commission, alleging that the former Massachusetts governor sidestepped campaign fundraising rules to funnel $1.5 million from his state-level political actions committees to Free and Strong America, his national PAC.

Federal campaign limits cap donations to national PACs at $5,000. But Alabama (and a couple other states) allow donors to give unlimited amounts of money to state PACs, allowing shrewd fundraisers like Romney to skirt federal limits while raking in massive contributions.

As my colleague Andy Kroll explained this week, national candidates often use money raised by their state-level PACs to court potential allies in key primary states. Romney’s PACs, for example, distributed some $400,000 in campaign contributions in 25 different states in 2009 and 2010, including $62,000 to now-Govenrors Nikki Haley (R-S.C.) and $30,000 to Terry Branstad (R-Iowa), both of whom won their races. Romney’s largesse, along with Haley and Branstad’s victories, gave him a pair of powerful potential backers leading into next year’s presidential race.

Harnessing state PACs in this way falls in line with Federal Election Commission rules. Shifting money from state PACS to a national PAC is kosher, as long as the candidate in question—Romney—hasn’t already announced his intention to run for president. If a candidate wants to run for national office, he first has to cut ties with his state-level PACs.

But the complaint, originally filed by the New Hampshire Democratic Party, alleges that Romney failed to cut those ties before forming his exploratory committee. In essence, the complaint claims, Romney used his state PACs as “shell operations” to fund a possible presidential campaign before officially declaring his candidacy—a potential breach of FEC rules, according to The Washington Post.

“Romney has engaged in the evident subterfuge of using state laws not for the state election-related purposes for which they were enacted, but to advance his Federal candidacy with the aid of ‘soft money,'” the complaint says. “He has misled the authorities of those states, filing reports of ‘state’ activities which were never bona fide state activities in the first instance.”

Romney’s campaign, meanwhile, claims that he hasn’t been affiliated with his state PACs since launching his exploratory campaign.

Campaign finance experts told the Post that the FEC isnt likely to find a violation of this rule until a candidate has made a “clear and unambiguous statement that they are running for a specific federal office.” The FEC—which hasn’t exactly been the most vigilant campaign law enforcer in recent years—is charged with the tricky task of determining when, exactly, Romney first threw his hat in the presidential ring. Given the fact that he basically never stopped running for president after losing out on the Republican nomination in 2008, that won’t be easy.  

More Mother Jones reporting on Dark Money

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate