Conservative watchdog files complaint over DePasquale campaign spending

    Pa. Auditor General calls for the shut down of the ICE detention center in Berks County. He made that call during a news conference in his Harrisburg office in 12/11/19 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

    (*This story was updated at 2:08 p.m. on 8/10/20 with comment from the DePasquale campaign.)

    A Washington D.C.-based campaign finance watchdog that frequently targets Democrats has filed a complaint against Eugene DePasquale’s congressional campaign.

    The Federal Elections Commission filing, by the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, argues that DePasquale broke federal campaign finance law by using $113,000 from his  state campaign account to set up a run for the 10th Congressional District in central Pennsylvania.

    The spending, which paid for social media advertising and research, went to companies that DePasquale, Pennsylvania’s term-limited auditor general, continues to use as the Democrat tries to beat GOP U.S. Rep. Scott Perry.

    The complaint from FACT, a non-profit group founded in 2014 with ties to conservative dark money groups, mirrors an April complaint filed by Tom Brier, a Hershey attorney who ran against DePasquale in the June 2 primary. 

    *In an email, Kunal Atit, spokesperson for the DePasquale campaign, called the complaint “fake” and highlighted FACT’s backing by right wing groups that also back Perry.

    “If these baseless allegations are the best Washington special interests can throw at us, they are clearly in trouble,” Atit said. “We look forward to sending Eugene to Congress to stand up for the hardworking families of this community. We will leave the political games to Washington, we have already moved on.”

    When Brier announced he would file the same complaint, DePasquale’s campaign manager, Rachele Fortier, denounced the complaint as a “baseless attack.” 

    She added that DePasquale’s federal campaign committee had paid the state committee “thousands of dollars to legally purchase materials that are relevant to the congressional campaign, to eliminate any concern about utilizing state campaign assets.”

    State and federal campaign finance records show that DePasquale’s state campaign sold $12,300 worth of video licensing, data, and research to his congressional campaign in July and October of 2019.

    FACT argued in its complaint that DePasquale “clearly demonstrates he made expenditures for his federal campaign with non-federal funds.”

    It asks for the FEC to determine if the spending was an “illegal contribution,” or if the amount paid for the data and research was of fair market value, and accordingly sanction the DePasquale campaign.

    The distinction could matter because state and federal campaign finance laws differ. 

    Under federal rules, for example, individual donors are limited to giving $2,800 to a candidate, per election, per year under federal rules. But in Pennsylvania, there are no limits on campaign spending.

    The six-member FEC currently only has three members, so it cannot convene, making it toothless. It has been this way since August 2019, outside of a few weeks in May 2020.

    The agency had 300 pending cases as of March 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported last week.

    The Capital-Star reported on similar spending in the lead up to DePasquale’s run, pointing to nearly $24,000 in Facebook ads from his state campaign’s coffers to collect contact information and burgeon his record.

    Ahead of rumored run for Congress, DePasquale drops campaign cash on Facebook ads

    Some of the ads specifically targeted the Harrisburg region, which is at the heart of the congressional district.

    Brier told the Capital-Star that his campaign could not notarize the complaint due to COVID-19, and never heard back from the FEC about the filing.

    Complaints “must be signed, sworn to, and notarized, meaning that the notary’s certificate must state that the complaint was ‘signed and sworn to before me’ or must indicate that the complainant affirmed the complaint ‘under penalty of perjury,’ said commission spokesperson Judith Ingram in an email.

    The attack is one in a trend for FACT. Of the 11 complaints listed on its site from this year, just one targeted a Republican.

    The rest accused Democratic campaigns of breaking federal campaign finance law.

    Among campaigns that FACT has filed against are four Democratic Senate candidates running in Colorado, Maine, North Carolina and Iowa. All four races are considered by political analysts to be among the most competitive this year.

    The 10th District is likewise considered amongst the most competitive races in the lower chamber, as Democrats attempt to pad their majority in the House of Representatives.