Setting fines as a percentage of the total raised means Members of Congress who raise large amounts of money pay the stiffest fines when they fail to file. Some of the biggest fines were levied against campaigns that failed to file 48-hour reports detailing contributors who gave them $1,000 or more in donations.
The campaign of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) was fined $38,000 for missing two 48-hour reports in 2006, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) was penalized $33,000 for missing a 48-hour report in 2004.
“The FEC found that the campaign did not violate any laws other than failing to comply with certain record-keeping and disbursement rules,” said Whitney Phillips, Lieberman’s press secretary. “This was the only time in 40 years that his campaign has been fined. It is critical to note that the FEC found that Sen. Lieberman did not engage in any wrongdoing in connection with alleged campaign violations.”
The list of candidates who missed filings reads like a political graveyard of campaigns past and present. Even President Barack Obama was fined $11,000 after his 2004 Senate campaign failed to file a 48-hour report.
Other sitting lawmakers who missed more than one filing include Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who was fined less than $4,000 for missing two filings in 2004 and 2005, and Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco (R-Texas), who was fined less than $3,000 for missing two filings in 2006 and 2008.
Groups advocating compliance say the central issue when reports go unfiled is that the public’s right to know who was funding these candidates is impaired.
This lack of transparency goes beyond candidates to some of the groups funding their campaigns. More than 1,000 forms were not filed on time by party committees and corporate, union, and other special interest political action committees during the past decade, resulting in more than $1.5 million in fines.
The amount unreported during these periods is substantial. These campaigns and PACs raised more than $1 billion combined in the cycles during which they failed at least once to file a form.
“Congress and the courts have collectively determined that the public has a right to know how candidates are raising and spending money,” Ryan said. “It’s important to voters via journalists to have that information to make informed decisions on Election Day.”
Some of the campaigns that are bad at filing their required reports are also bad at paying fines. Candidates failing to file currently owe more than $470,000 to the FEC, with Republican campaigns owing $248,000 and Democratic ones owing $210,000.