Wilkes Warned by FEC
Brent Wilkes has had better years.
The fast-spending defense contractor, for whom jailed ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) allegedly helped obtain millions of dollars in military contracts, in recent months has seen his fortune dwindle, business fail and personal life go to shambles.
Meanwhile, media reports suggest that the Justice Department likely will indict Wilkes any day for his alleged involvement in Cunningham’s pay-to-play contract scandal.
And now the Federal Election Commission could add to Wilkes’ legal woes by prying into details involving his firm’s political action committee.
Just before Christmas, the agency sent a warning letter to Wilkes promising to fine, audit or worse — “legal or enforcement action” — for failing to file campaign finance disclosure documents going back months on behalf of his company’s PAC, ADCS Inc.
“It has come to the attention of the Federal Election Commission that you may have failed to file the [post-general 10/1/2006 to 11/27/2006 report] of receipts and expenditures as required by Federal Election Campaign Act,” stated the Dec. 21 letter addressed to Wilkes, the PAC’s treasurer. “The civil money penalty calculation for late reports does not include a grace period and begins on the day following the due date for the report.”
As of late Friday, Wilkes still had not filed the PAC’s disclosure report nor the committee’s year-end report, according to the FEC Web site. Mark Geragos, Wilkes’ lawyer, did not respond to a request for comment by press time Friday.
The FEC does not discuss ongoing enforcement cases, but according to Brett Kappel, an election law lawyer at Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, there is little chance the agency will seek monetary penalties from Wilkes. With just $1.38 in the PAC’s bank account — and banks threatening to foreclose on his property — it would appear difficult for the agency to squeeze blood from a turnip.
“The PAC appears to have been inactive since spending almost $5,000 on legal fees in June 2006,” Kappel said. Under the agency’s administrative fine program, the FEC “calculates the fine based upon the level of financial activity during the period covered by the reports that were not filed.”
“Since there apparently have been [no transactions],” Kappel said, “[the PAC] probably will not get fined.”
And any fine likely would be minimal. With barely enough for bus fare in the committee’s coffers, Wilkes could be penalized roughly $900 for failing to file, according to an FEC penalty schedule.
But that could be the least of it. Although Wilkes may dodge a fine, an audit — which the FEC stressed in the letter may be initiated — could open up the PAC’s books to further law enforcement scrutiny, perhaps compounding a recent decision by a state campaign finance regulator.
Last month, California’s Fair Political Practices Commission fined Wilkes $4,000 for illegally reimbursing an employee and her husband for $500 worth of contributions made to a San Diego mayoral candidate in mid-2000. Although the two counts violated state campaign laws, Kappel speculated that the decision may give further cause to federal investigators looking to scrutinize the transactions of Wilkes’ PAC.
“I have to think that the FBI investigation includes a campaign finance angle,” Kappel said. “I would be extremely surprised if the FBI is not investigating the PAC and the campaign contributions by Wilkes and others.”
Although Wilkes wrote no checks to candidates in 2005-06, according to CQ PoliticalMoneyLine.com, the PAC handed out more than $40,000 to a dozen candidates the previous cycle, including Cunningham, former House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and former House Armed Services Chairman and current presidential candidate Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.).
During the 2001-02 cycle, the PAC handed out $89,000 to 19 Republicans. In addition to Cunningham and Hunter, Reps. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) also received contributions.
Even though Wilkes may have bigger fish to fry, Kappel said the potential domino effect set off by failing to file should be reason enough.
“I’m surprised that his lawyers didn’t advise him to just file the report. They don’t need any more investigations by any more federal agencies,” Kappel said.