THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

FEC takes first step in NH rep.-elect's case

By Holly Ramer
Associated Press / December 16, 2010

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CONCORD, N.H.—The Federal Elections Commission has taken a preliminary step toward investigating U.S. Rep.-elect Frank Guinta's personal finances.

The commission this week told state Democratic Party director Mike Brunelle that it has assigned a case number to his complaint and that Guinta will have 15 days to respond once he is notified.

Guinta, the former Manchester mayor who defeated Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in November, amended a disclosure form in July to add a previously unreported bank account worth up to $500,000, raising questions about how he had been able to loan his campaign $355,000.

Democrats have filed complaints with the FEC, the clerk of the U.S. House and the U.S. attorney's office seeking investigations into the account. They called on Guinta to show bank records proving the account's earlier existence and have questioned how someone whose chief income over the last decade was his $72,000-a-year mayoral salary could save that amount.

"It's unacceptable that a New Hampshire member of Congress has such a serious ethical cloud hanging over him," said Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein.

Neither the House nor the U.S. attorney's office have responded specifically to those complaints, but earlier this week, the general counsel for the House standards committee told Guinta that it had reviewed his reports and determined that they are in substantial compliance with the federal ethics laws.

Guinta's finances first came under fire by his rivals in the Republican primary, and Shea-Porter kept up the criticism during the general election. During the campaign, Guinta, 40, flatly denied the money was an illegal campaign donation and said his wife saved it working in the private sector before he was elected mayor in 2005.

Guinta's chief of staff declined to comment Thursday. The office has not yet received the FEC letter.

The Democrats' complaint must overcome several hurdles before the FEC starts investigating. An FEC staffer would have to recommend that the commission investigate and four commissioners would have to agree. During an investigation, the commission has the power to subpoena documents and individuals.