By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
As U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio prepares for a possible 2016 presidential run, federal elections regulators want him to explain why he accepted illegal campaign contributions from 14 donors in his recent year-end campaign finance report.
In an April 8 letter to Rubio’s campaign treasurer Keith Davis, Federal Election Commission (FEC) analyst Jaime Amrhein said that each of the 14 contributors exceeded the maximum amount individuals can give a federal candidate per election.
Some donors to Rubio’s war chest, gave hundreds of dollars over the $2,600 limit, while others gave as much as $2,400 above the cap. One donor, Sandra Reus, who is vice president of Sunshine Gasoline Distributors in Miami, gave the senator’s campaign $9,600 on Dec. 19, 2014, exceeding the maximum by $7,000.
In total, Rubio’s ostensible senate campaign collected $15,000 in excessive donations during the three months ending in October 2014, the letter said.
Reached by telephone, treasurer Davis declined comment. He referred questions to a campaign spokesperson who did not respond to two emails requesting comment. Brooke Sammon, Rubio’s senate spokeswoman, also did not respond.
Rubio is scheduled to hold a public gathering on April 13 at downtown Miami’s iconic Freedom Tower, where he is expected to announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.
According to the FEC letter, Rubio’s senate campaign has not returned the money to the 14 donors. Failure to return excessive contributions is against federal law, but it is not a criminal offense. The FEC gives candidates 60 days from the date of a notice being mailed to give back the fund or amend a report if information was entered incorrectly.
The FEC typically handles report discrepancies administratively, said Sheila Krumholz, executive director for Washington D.C-based Center for Responsive Politics. She said the FEC merely provides a bureaucratic function in making sure campaigns are complying with the law.
“They have never aggressively pursued instances when donors have given excessive amounts,” Krumholz said. “What happens is these donations are not returned for at least a couple of years and it amounts to a nice little loan for a campaign.”
However, Krumholz said voters still have a right to know when campaigns cut corners, especially when a candidate has been previously admonished by the FEC. In Rubio’s case, its not the first time his campaign has run afoul of the rules.
2012 SETTLEMENT WITH FEC
In 2012, Rubio’s campaign and treasurer Davis settled an inquiry by the FEC into $210,173 in excessive contributions accepted for the 2010 primary and general election, the year Rubio was elected to the Senate.
The commission also accused the senator’s campaign of failing to refund or redistribute the illegal donations within a designated timeframe. Rubio’s campaign and Davis claimed only $61,958 was not returned in a timely basis.
As part of the settlement, the senator’s campaign agreed to enact safeguards to avoid similar errors in the future. Rubio had to send a campaign representative to an FEC conference on reporting requirements, develop a compliance manual for campaign staffers, and set up a process to properly respond to inquiries from the commission. The campaign also agreed to pay a $8,000 civil penalty.
However, Rubio’s senate campaign appears to be having trouble living up to its end of the bargain. On May 28, 2014, the FEC sent Davis a letter notifying him that the campaign had received $10,000 in excessive donations from four donors during the three month period ending in April of last year. One of the contributors, Ned Lautenbach, gave $10,200, exceeding the limit by $7,600. Davis did not respond to the letter, according to FEC online records.
Last month, on March 12, FEC analysts sent Davis two more letters stating the senate campaign reported $18,830 and $6,500 in excessive donations in its 2014 quarterly reports for July and October, respectively. Indian Creek resident Robert Diener, co-founder of hotels.com, donated $5,100, which was $2,500 above the maximum allowable contribution.
Another donor, Texas pharmaceutical company owner Dian Graves Stai, exceeded the cap by $7,800. Again, Davis did not reply to the letters, the FEC online records show.
Krumholz said voters should consider the fact that Rubio keeps getting flagged for excessive contributions when determining if he is fit to be president.
“He is asking for a promotion, but he has not shown he can effectively manage the most basic administrative problems with his own campaign,” Krumholz said. “That is always a valid consideration for voters to judge their candidates on.”
Rubio is the second congressional leader from Miami-Dade to face FEC scrutiny over campaign finances in the last six months. Last month, freshman U.S. Representative Carlos Curbelo agreed to pay a $3,200 civil fine to settle an audit into $26,700 in political contributions omitted from his finance reports last year. He also replaced his treasurer with Paul Kilgore, who served the same role for Aaron Schock, the Illinois congressman who resigned in disgrace this February after media stories scrutinizing his congressional expenditure reports showed he spent more than $100,000 in government funds redecorating and renovating his office between Jan. 2009 and late 2014, among other questionable expenses.