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CAMPAIGN 2012

US inquiries sought for political action group supporting Romney

By Donovan Slack
Globe Staff / August 12, 2011

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WASHINGTON - Two nonpartisan campaign finance watchdogs called yesterday for the Federal Election Commission and US attorney general to review the actions of a political action committee supporting Mitt Romney after the groups discovered it received two more $1 million donations from obscure companies.

The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 filed complaints that allege that two companies - Utah-based F8 LLC and Eli Publishing - may have violated federal campaign finance law when they donated to Restore Our Future, a SuperPAC run by former associates of Romney. The names of the firms’ owners were not listed on campaign finance reports, and the complaints suggest they could be shell companies used solely to make the contributions.

The complaints from the watchdog groups follow their call last week for an investigation into a $1 million contribution to the committee from a company called W Spann, whose owner was not listed on campaign or corporate records.

“The use of ‘straw companies’ to funnel money anonymously into Restore Our Future does not appear to have been limited to a single company, but seems to be a pattern that places additional urgency on the need for the FEC and DOJ to vigorously investigate these companies and to enforce the laws on the books before this problem becomes even more widespread,’’ said Paul S. Ryan, FEC program director at the Campaign Legal Center.

Federal law prohibits giving money in another person or entity’s name to political candidates or committees, and violators could face civil and criminal penalties for knowingly participating in such a scheme - either as the original contributor, the person or entity acting as a go-between, or the campaign or committee receiving the money.

The new complaints go further than those filed last week, saying that authorities also should scrutinize Restore Our Future.

“The fact that Restore Our Future has been the recipient of all three mysterious $1 million contributions warrants exploration of the PAC’s knowledge of or involvement in this ‘straw company’ donation scheme,’’ Ryan said.

A spokeswoman for the committee, Brittany Gross, declined to comment yesterday.

The Federal Election Commission could not immediately confirm whether it had received the complaint. The FEC and the Department of Justice, as a matter of policy, do not comment on such complaints or say whether they plan to investigate.

Restore Our Future was formed in October “to support Romney in his effort to become America’s next president,’’ according to a press release. The founders all worked for the Romney presidential campaign in 2008; Carl Forti was national political director, Charlie Spies was chief financial officer and counsel; and Larry McCarthy was a member of the media team.

The committee is a SuperPAC, which means it can take unlimited amounts from corporations, unions, and individuals and spend unlimited amounts to influence campaigns. It must spend that money independently - the group cannot coordinate with a candidate’s campaign. It also must disclose the names of its donors.

SuperPACs were created after a Supreme Court ruling last year allowed corporations and unions to spend vast amounts of money on political campaigns.

The complaint last week about W Spann prompted the contributor to come forward within hours and identify himself as Edward Conard, a longtime Romney supporter and former executive at Bain Capital, a venture capital firm cofounded by Romney.

Conard said at the time that he had thought that funneling $1 million through W Spann, which was set up and dissolved within weeks of the contribution, was legal, according to a statement he provided to Politico.

The other two companies, which contributed $1 million each, listed the owners’ names on corporate registration documents, although not on campaign reports. Nu Skin cofounder Steven J. Lund owns Eli and former Nu Skin executive Jeremy S. Blickenstaff owns F8.

A Fox News affiliate in Salt Lake City reported last week that Lund said he set up the publishing company several years ago to publish a book and used it to give money to Restore Our Future because it offered accounting advantages that he would not get by a personal check.

Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer said yesterday that such schemes do not belong in campaign finance, and he urged Romney to “speak out loud and clear that he wants full transparency for all of the money being raised and spent to support his presidential campaign.’’

A Romney aide said yesterday that the Restore our Future committee is an independent group.

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @DonovanSlack.

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