By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
Two days before he officially announced his run for the presidency last week, Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign disclosed that it had refunded more than $23,000 in excessive contributions it previously had accepted.
Another $27,000 in over-the-limit contributions originally raised to boost Republican Rubio for a Senate primary election fight was either reclassified for use in the 2016 general election, or applied to the spouses of donors who gave more than the $2,600 maximum per election allowed by federal law, federal election records show.
That $50,000 in refunds, reclassifications and reassignments were in response to violation notices sent by the Federal Election Commission to the campaign after each of its quarterly financial report filings in 2014.
In four April 11 response letters, Rubio campaign assistant treasurer Lisa Lisker said that Rubio’s campaign committee – recently renamed Marco Rubio for President – and the separate Rubio Victory PAC had not tracked excessive contributions or duplicate entries.
“The committee now performs reviews of the data weekly to identify any excessive contributions that may have been missed during the initial processing,” Lisker wrote. “Once the excessive contributions are identified, the committee takes steps to either reattribute, re-designate or refund if necessary.”
Lisker did not explain why the campaign had neglected to track for excessive contributions before being questioned by the FEC.
Rubio’s campaign spokesman Alex Contant did not respond to two emailed requests for comment.
The FEC issued its first warning to Rubio campaign treasurer Keith Davis nearly a year ago, May 28, 2014. The notice said the campaign had received $10,000 in excessive donations from four donors during the prior three-month period. One of the contributors, Ned Lautenbach, gave $10,200, exceeding the limit by $7,600.
Lisker told the FEC Lautenbach, a trustee on the Board of Governors for Florida’s State University System, was refunded $2,600. The remaining $5,000 was split into two $2,500 donations, one for Lautenbach and one for his wife, for the 2016 general election.
MORE FEC LETTERS LAST MONTH
FEC analysts sent Davis two more letters last month that said Rubio’s campaign had reported excessive donations of $18,830 and $6,500 in quarterly reports for July and October 2014.
Indian Creek resident Robert Diener, co-founder of hotels.com, donated $5,100, which was $2,500 above the maximum allowable contribution.
Another donor was Texas pharmaceutical company owner Dian Graves Stai, who exceeded the cap by $7,800.
Lisker told the FEC that one of Diener’s donations was inputted twice by mistake by the campaign. She also said another $800 donation was refunded to Diener three weeks ago, noting that the changes will be reflected in Rubio for President reports due at the end of this month.
Stai’s $7,800 excessive contribution was refunded on Dec. 29 and was noted in the campaign’s year-end report, Lisker wrote.
On April 8, the FEC cited $15,000 in excessive donations during the three months ending in October 2014. One donor, Sandra Reus, vice president of Miami’s Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, gave Rubio’s campaign $9,600 last Dec. 19, exceeding the maximum by $7,000.
Lisker wrote back that $2,600 was applied to the general election under Reus’ name and another $4,400 was applied in the name of Reus’ husband and split into contributions for the primary and the general election.
In an unusual twist, Lisker also told the FEC that the campaign had not received any of the commission’s correspondence.
“It was recently discovered while reviewing the committee’s filings on the FEC website,” Lisker wrote. Apparently, no one at the campaign bothered to check election filings on the FEC’s online database until after FloridaBulldog.org and the Washington Post reported about the excessive donations.
In 2012, Davis and the campaign settled with the FEC after the commission found they had accepted $210,173 in excessive donations for the 2010 primary and general election, the year Rubio was elected to the Senate. The FEC also admonished the campaign for not refunding or redistributing the illegal contributions within a designated timeframe. The campaign paid a $8,000 civil penalty and agreed to enact safeguards to avoid similar errors in the future.