The commission sent Love a letter in August saying the Utah Republican’s campaign had violated federal guidelines about money for primaries. In Utah, candidates are not allowed to raise such funds if they have no primary, according to the FEC and experts specializing in election law. On Friday, Love’s campaign responded to regulators, telling the FEC they would refund or redesignate some, but not all, of that money. …
The campaign told the FEC they would not be refunding the money that it received before the convention, citing a similar situation involving Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s 2016 re-election campaign. …
According to Paul S. Ryan, vice president for policy and litigation with government watchdog Common Cause, a key difference between Love and Lee is that Lee’s campaign worked as if it was expecting a primary challenger, and raised money accordingly, while Love’s campaign had no expectation of a primary challenger.
“It’s a really important factual distinction that makes Mia Love’s claim on this primary money even weaker than Mike Lee’s claim on it,” Ryan said. “I’m realizing after reading their response, reading a little bit more about the Mike Lee matter, that this is a more definitive attempt by the Love committee to game the contribution limits. That’s what it strikes me as now.”
In response to the FEC, lawyers for Love said they would have to get a further opinion from the FEC’s counsel or commissioners to see if the FEC would take the same opinion on their donations raised before the convention as Lee’s donations. They cited a conversation they had with an FEC election official when preparing their response where that official said the FEC’s response to Lee applied only to his specific case.
It is unclear if the FEC will accept Love’s rationale for keeping the pre-convention donations or will say all the money will have to be refunded or redesignated. Working in Love’s favor is that there are currently two vacant seats on the six-seat commission, so any decision would have to be unanimous.
“They are probably betting that there’s no way there are four votes on the FEC to come after them for this, that’s part of what’s in the background here,” Ryan said. “So I think they’re really pushing the boundaries of the law in order to game the contribution limits predicting that they will get away with it, and it’s like we have correct protection, but just because you can get away with something doesn’t make it right.”