Blogger Files FEC Complaint against Thompson

A liberal blogger charges that Fred Thompson is breaking the law by raising so much money and still not formally declaring himself a candidate.

Lane Hudson, a left-wing blogger, filed a complaint against former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) on Monday, accusing the likely presidential candidate of breaking the law by violating the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) “testing the waters” clause. Hudson, known for posting e-mails from former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) in last year’s page scandal, said Thompson “has been presenting himself as a candidate, he has been raising large sums of money beyond what would be required to explore a possible candidacy and he has signed a long term lease on a headquarters for his campaign.”

In his complaint, Hudson lays out a number of examples ranging from Thompson’s extensive fundraising to quotes from the senator and his advisers. “Fred Thompson is breaking the law and it’s time somebody did something about it,” Hudson said in a statement. “So, this morning, I filed an FEC Complaint against him. For far too long, he has been ignoring the letter and spirit of Federal Election Law for his own political benefit. It reeks of the same disregard for the law that we have seen from the Bush Administration, Bob Ney, Duke Cunningham, Tom Delay [sic], and Mark Foley.”

In an e-mail, Thompson spokesman Jim Mills said only, “We’re following the law.”

The FEC Monday afternoon could only confirm that it has received the complaint. The complaint will be treated as a “matter under review.” Within five days of receiving the complaint, the FEC must notify the Thompson exploratory committee and provide it with a copy of the complaint. The committee then has 15 days to respond to the FEC and say in writing “why no action should be taken.”

A number of press reports have raised questions about the extent of Thompson’s early efforts and whether they run afoul of the “testing the waters” clause. The law is particularly vague in this area as there are no set dollar amounts a would-be candidate is prevented from raising. Thompson’s $3.4 million June haul as outlined in a report to the IRS does not meet or exceed any specific legal guideline.

You can read the whole complaint at Hudson’s site.

Whether Thompson is within the letter of the law, he’s certainly violating its spirit. ABC’s Jake Tapper notes that there’s plenty of precedent for the FEC’s calling shenanigans on candidates who get too cute.

Previous pre-candidates who tried the “testing the waters” committee — including Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Rev. Pat Robertson, and Rev. Al Sharpton — invited FEC scrutiny.

The rule is pretty simple. If you spend more than $5,000 on campaign activities, you’re a candidate, whether or not you’ve officially declared. The question is what constitutes “testing the waters” activity, and what constitutes “candidate” activity.

In 2004 the conservative National and Legal Policy Center filed a complaint with the FEC alleging Sharpton was using the “testing the waters” committee to run an “off-the-books campaign,” not declaring his candidacy officially while clearly a candidate, thus avoiding disclosure rules. The FEC investigated the matter, and arrived at a settlement with Sharpton.

The FEC ruled that Robertson had violated the “testing the waters” rules in 1988, fining him $25,000.

Practically speaking, however, it’s academic. As Chuck Todd explained back in May, the advantage of delaying formal declaration of candidacy is that it “allows Thompson to forgo filing a detailed report” on his spending with the FEC but “once he’s an official candidate, he’ll have to file retroactively.” On the other hand, as Tapper notes, “If Thompson waits until September 6 to formally declare his candidacy, he wouldn’t have to disclose any of the cash given to his campaign until January 31 — after many major contests are over, including the Iowa and Nevada Caucuses, and the New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan and Florida primaries.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Beldar says:

    I seriously, seriously doubt that becoming subject to FEC disclosure rules is what has been, is, or will be driving Sen. Thompson’s campaign announcement timing. Time will tell whether his timing has been strategically wise or not, but I have no doubt whatsoever that it’s strategically motivated, and by factors mostly other than FEC rules.