WASHINGTON –Two non-partisan campaign-finance watchdogs today filed additional complaints with the Federal Election Commission and US attorney general about contributions made by obscure companies to a political action committee supporting Mitt Romney.
The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 had lodged complaints last week about a $1 million contribution to the committee from a company called W Spann, whose owner was not listed on campaign or corporate records.
The new complaints allege that $2 million worth of contributions from two other companies – Utah-based F8 LLC and Eli Publishing — also may have violated federal campaign finance law. Their owners’ names also were not listed on campaign finance reports, and the compaints suggest they also may be shell companies used solely to make the contributions.
“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 by the groups last week, saying that authorities also should scrutinize the committee, Restore Our Future, which was set up last year by three former Romney aides to support his presidential candidacy.
“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.
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 last year “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 Super PAC, meaning it can take unlimited amounts from corporations, unions, and individuals and spend unlimited amounts to influence campaigns. It must spend that money independently, meaning the group cannot coordinate with a candidate’s campaign.
It also must disclose the names of its donors.
The complaint last week about W Spann prompted the contributor to come forward hours later and identify himself as Edward Conard, a longtime Romney supporter and former colleague of Romney’s at Bain Capital.
Conard said at the time that he had thought that funneling $1 million through the company, which was set up and dissolved within weeks of the contribution, was legal, according to a statement he provided to Politico on Friday.
The other two companies, which contributed $1 million each, listed the owners’ names on 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.
Lund and Blickenstaff did not return messages seeking comment about the contributions last week.
A Fox News affiliate in Salt Lake City reported 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 wouldn’t get by cutting a personal check.
“Both the secrecy and the size of the contributions to Restore our Future are extremely dangerous to the interests of the American people,’’ Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said today. “Secret and unlimited contributions in American politics invariably result in scandal and corruption. Mitt Romney needs 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 spokeswoman for Romney said last week that the committee is unrelated to his campaign and questions should be directed to Restore Our Future.