FEC Deadlocks on Candidate Registration Case

By Kenneth P. Doyle

Nov. 25 — The Federal Election Commission dismissed on a deadlocked vote allegations that David Larsen, a New Jersey congressional candidate, violated the law by failing to register as a candidate and file campaign finance reports during the 2016 election cycle.

Documents newly released by the FEC included a staff report from the agency general counsel’s office in an enforcement case designated Matter Under Review (MUR) 6999. The report said there was evidence Larsen decided to run for a U.S. House seat months before he registered as a candidate and began filing campaign finance disclosure reports with the FEC.

The FEC commissioners deadlocked 3-3 in a vote on whether to follow the recommendation of the counsel’s office and pursue enforcement action. The three commissioners holding Democratic FEC seats voted to pursue the matter, while the three FEC Republicans voted to drop it.

In a subsequent vote, FEC Vice Chairman Steven Walther, who holds a Democratic FEC seat, joined the three Republican commissioners in a vote to dismiss the enforcement case based on prosecutorial discretion and send a cautionary letter to Larsen.

Report: Fundraising Evidenced Candidacy

Larsen ran unsuccessfully in a Republican primary against Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.). He also ran for Congress unsuccessfully in 2012 and 2014.

Evidence cited by the FEC counsel’s office indicating that Larsen had become a candidate under the law before his actual registration included fundraising invitations that publicized Larsen’s intention to run. These included the same “Larsen for Congress” logo used in a prior campaign. The counsel’s report also cited use of a “DavidLarsenForCongress” website address and dissemination of fundraising invitations via a Facebook page and Twitter account.

Larsen argued that the invitations did not show that he had decided to run because they were sent under the name of his “exploratory committee.” But, the counsel’s report said the FEC has recognized that the mere use of the term “exploratory” in campaign communications is not the determining factor in whether the candidate was still “testing the waters” to explore whether to run for office.

Romney Case Was Dismissed

The FEC commissioners have deadlocked on several previous cases involving when a candidate crosses the line between exploring a possible candidacy and actually becoming a candidate. The distinction is important to determine when federal campaign finance reporting requirements and other rules take effect.

Last January, for example, allegations that 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney violated campaign finance laws by using political action committees to raise money for his campaign before he officially declared his candidacy were dismissed due to a deadlocked, party-line vote of the FEC commissioners.

An FEC general counsel’s report on the matter (MUR 6470, recommended that the FEC “find reason to believe” that the pro-Romney PACs made excessive in-kind contributions to Romney by paying for testing-the-waters activity that Romney engaged in before he filed an official statement of candidacy.

Emmer, DNC Cases Dismissed

In other action, the FEC voted unanimously to dismiss a case (MUR 6794) involving appearance by Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) in a television and internet ad for a home remodeling company. In the video, Emmer stated that he was a candidate for Congress and stood in front of an “Emmer for Congress” sign.

Emmer’s campaign committee acknowledge that Emmer filmed a testimonial for the company at its request but claimed the company was not authorized to broadcast it, and upon learning that the ad was being aired, the campaign committee directed the company to stop.

In another case (MUR 6959), the FEC unanimously dismissed charges that the Democratic National Committee violated the law by hiring a foreign national as an intern. An FEC counsel’s report found that the intern, Cindy Nava, did not participate in the DNC’s decision-making or management processes or that her employment otherwise constituted an illegal foreign contribution to the DNC.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bna.com

For More Information

Documents in closed FEC enforcement cases are available online at http://eqs.fec.gov/eqs/searcheqs.

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