FEC Deadlocks on Increased Contributions for GOP Candidate

By Kenneth P. Doyle

Oct. 12 — The Federal Election Commission deadlocked on whether to allow an increased campaign contributions limit for Jack Martins, a Republican running for an open U.S. House seat in New York.

Last month, the FEC granted the Martins campaign's request to raise extra money for a court-ordered primary set for Oct. 6 (See previous story, 09/15/16).

The primary subsequently was canceled by an appeals court, and the campaign then asked the FEC if it could continue raising additional money to retire debts incurred due to the cancellation.

This second advisory opinion request ( AO 2016-13) led to the deadlock among the FEC commissioners, announced Oct. 12.

The first FEC action allowed Martins to raise an extra $2,700 per individual contributor in addition to the combined $5,400 limit for a primary election and general election, which applies to all federal candidates.

FEC Divided Along Party Lines

Information about the votes of individual commissioners was not released by the agency, but the FEC's three Republican and three Democratic commissioners frequently have split on key legal and enforcement matters. It takes the votes of at least four of the six commissioners the approve any final ruling.

The FEC noted in a close-out letter that alternative draft responses to the Martins request were released prior to the commission vote, including a draft response approving the request to continue raising contributions under an increased limit and a draft denying the request.

Martins was unopposed in the June 28 primary for the Republican nomination for the congressional seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Steve Israel (D). Because he was the only candidate qualified for the ballot at that point, no actual voting took place.

However, a rival Republican candidate, Philip Pidot, went to court to contest a ruling that he had failed to qualify for the ballot because he didn't obtain the requisite number of petition signatures.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York ruled in favor of Pidot in August and ordered a special primary election between Martins and Pidot to take place Oct. 6. After the court ruling, the FEC granted the first request from the Martins campaign. Following that, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit canceled the October primary.

Martins now is set to face Democrat Tom Suozzi in the November general election.

‘Enough Is Enough.'

Suozzi did not comment directly on the legal battle over the Republican primary, but lawyers for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did weigh in. They filed comments with the FEC that expressed outrage Martins could seek increased contribution limits for a special primary election that never occurred.

“Having already enjoyed one contribution limit for a primary election (in June) where balloting never took place, Mr. Martins now seeks yet another contribution limit for a primary election (in October) where no votes will be cast,” said a comment letter filed by attorney Marc Elias and others from the law firm Perkins Coie.

“Enough is enough,” the letter said. “On behalf of the DCCC, we file these comments strongly opposing Mr. Martins' outrageous attempt to circumvent federal contribution limits.”

Lawyers for Martins, however, said his request for an additional contribution limit was justified under the circumstances. The advisory opinion request filed on Martins's behalf by attorneys Jason Torchinsky and Steve Roberts of the firm Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky said that, from the time of the district court's decision in mid-August ordering the Oct. 6 primary until the mid-September appeals court decision canceling the primary, “Martins was running in the court-ordered special Republican primary to be held on October 6 against Philip Pidot.”

Only after cancellation of the primary could Martins begin campaigning as the Republican nominee for the general election, his lawyers said. They added that Martins and Pidot actively campaigned for the canceled primary, with Martins sending mailers supporting his nomination.

During the roughly four weeks in which Martins was effectively re-running in the court-ordered primary, his campaign raised more than $150,000 and spent more than $250,000, his lawyers said.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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