FEC: Senator Violated Finance Law

Posted February 20, 2004 at 5:53pm

At the prodding of a government watchdog group, the Federal Election Commission ruled last month that Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) had violated campaign finance law in 2000. But the commission took no action against the Senator.

The National Legal and Policy Center, a nonprofit sponsored by the Government Integrity Project, asked the FEC in April 2001 to investigate two loans of almost $4 million that Cantwell took out just prior to the 2000 election. The center publicized the FEC decision late last week.

The FEC ruled that her loans from U.S. Bank were justified but that she violated election law by not fully disclosing the loan terms before she narrowly defeated then-Sen. Slade Gorton (R) by “less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the votes cast,” the watchdog group said in a statement touting the FEC’s findings.

Cantwell spent more than $10 million of her fortune earned while working for the high-tech firm RealNetworks in her bid to unseat Gorton. She guaranteed a $3.2 million loan with the company’s stock, whose value plummeted during the loan’s maturity, forcing her to renegotiate the terms, The Associated Press has reported.

In total, Cantwell leveraged almost $3.8 million in the closing days of her campaign.

She did disclose the loans in her year-end campaign finance report, which was filed Jan. 30, 2001, “despite two letters from the FEC requesting additional information,” according to the group’s release.

“It’s ironic that Cantwell ran on the issue of campaign finance reform while keeping millions of dollars in loan information secret from Washington voters until after the election,” said Kenneth Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center.

The group filed its complaint after the loans were uncovered by the AP.

The FEC did admonish Cantwell for “failing to timely report complete loan information” but decided to “take no further action” against Cantwell and closed the inquiry in January, according to a letter the commission sent to Boehm.