Groups file complaints over obscure PAC contribution

WASHINGTON – Two campaign finance groups are filing complaints with the Federal Elections Commission and Department of Justice about a mysterious $1 million contribution to a political action committee supporting presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, nonpartisan transparency advocates based in Washington, DC, are alleging that the contributor may have illegally sought to hide his or her identity by setting up a shell company, which formed and dissolved within weeks of making the contribution. Registration records for the company, W Spann LLC, do not list its owners.

“This case deserves a good hard look from the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice,’’ said Paul Ryan, associate legal counsel for the Campaign Legal Center. “If violations are found, they should be prosecuted vigorously in order to deter future straw contributor schemes that make a mockery of our campaign finance disclosure laws.’’

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Federal law states specifically that “No person shall make a contribution in the name of another person or knowingly permit his name to be used to effect such a contribution and no person shall knowingly accept a contribution made by one person in the name of another person.’’

Violations of that section of campaign finance law are the most frequently prosecuted. Just this year, a contributor to former presidential candidate John Edwards and a contributor to Vice President Joe Biden’s 2008 presidential bid pleaded guilty to illegally funneling campaign contributions through straw contributors.

The W Spann case, if investigators find evidence of a violation, could be the first in which a company was alleged to be a straw contributor.

“We haven’t seen this before but that’s only because until a year ago it was illegal for corporations to make any political contributions,’’ Ryan said, noting that a Supreme Court decision last year paved the way for corporate involvement.

The other cases have involved using other people. For example, Los Angeles attorney Pierce O’Donnell asked people to give money to Edwards 2004 presidential campaign and he then reimbursed them, effectively masking his identity as the contributor. O’Donnell agreed this week to serve six months in federal prison and pay a $20,000 fine.

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W Spann was formed by Boston lawyer Cameron Casey and registered in Delaware on March 15. On April 28, the company gave $1 million to Restore Our Future, a political action committee run by former Romney campaign advisors to support his quest for the presidency. On July 12, W Spann dissolved.

Casey of the law firm Ropes & Gray has declined to comment. The firm has said it does not comment on confidential client matters. Restore Our Future has said it did complied with federal law by disclosing the name of the company. A Romney aide referred questions to the commmittee, saying it is an independent organization.

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