The Federal Election Commission has launched an audit into President Barack Obama's record-breaking 2008 campaign.
Individuals familiar with the campaign told Roll Call Friday that the FEC has been investigating the financial records of Obama's previous campaign. The scope of the probe, which began approximately two years ago, is unknown. Presidential audits typically take years to complete and can cost millions of dollars.
The newly formed 2012 Obama campaign did not deny there was an audit, but a spokeswoman called it a "review."
"The FEC is conducting a routine review — as is true with the McCain Campaign, the Romney Campaign and many others — to determine if they have any questions with the information reported," said Katie Hogan, deputy press secretary for the campaign. "Given that there was an historic number of contributors and contributions — nearly four million and over nine million respectively — this takes time."
The FEC was not required to audit the president's campaign because Obama chose not to accept $84 million in federal funds following the Democratic National Convention in 2008. However, the agency was obligated to launch a similar investigation into Republican nominee Sen. John McCain's (Ariz.) 2008 White House bid after he opted to receive government funds.
FEC spokespeople would not confirm the audit of Obama's 2008 bid or say why the agency used its discretion to launch its investigation. But the decision came in the wake of Republican allegations of illegal contributions, as well as dozens of letters from the agency questioning transactions that appeared out of compliance with campaign finance laws.
The FEC's decision to audit the campaign is not surprising, given that it was the largest federal campaign in history, raising more than $750 million in receipts. If Obama's campaign were not audited, it would have been the first presidential nominee's campaign to escape such scrutiny since the public financing system was created in 1976.
The potential for the FEC's audit became increasingly more likely as the FEC questioned some of Obama campaign filings. In all, the FEC wrote 26 letters to Obama for America warning the campaign that if it did not adequately respond to the agency's questions that it "could result in an audit or enforcement action."
These letters totaled more than 1,500 pages of questions and data that outlined compliance concerns — including the longest one ever sent to a presidential candidate.
The Obama campaign has shown signs of an audit for years as it has ramped up its spending on legal fees and other similar expenses, according to CQ MoneyLine study of disclosure reports.
As of the end of March, Obama for America had spent nearly $3 million on legal fees since the 2008 election. In all, the president's campaign spent three times more on lawyers after Election Day than in the two years preceding it.
The lion's share of Obama's legal spending went to Perkins Coie, a well-known Democratic legal and accounting firm. Perkins Coie is representing the Obama campaign in all major legal matters, including seven of the FEC's known investigations involving the White House bid. In each of these cases, the FEC voted to dismiss the case or found "no reason to believe" that the Obama for America or related committees had violated any laws.
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