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FEC says Daines failed to disclose more than $1 million during re-election bid in ’20

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FEC says Daines failed to disclose more than $1 million during re-election bid in ’20

Feb 20, 2024 | 6:38 pm ET
By Darrell Ehrlick
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FEC says Daines failed to disclose more than $1 million during re-election bid in ’20
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The Federal Elections Commission has said that Montana Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican and the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, failed to disclose more than $1 million on his most recent re-election campaign (Photo by Getty Images).

A spokesperson for Steve Daines called it “a minor bookkeeping issue,” but the Federal Elections Commission found that Montana’s junior Senator failed to disclose financial information in excess of $1 million during his last run for Senate re-election in 2020.

Furthermore, when the Steve Daines for Montana committee was given opportunities to explain the accounting or appear to defend its campaign practices before the FEC, it declined.

The reporting of Daines’ own campaign financing is key because Daines is now the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has as its mission fundraising and getting GOP candidates elected in November, with the hopes of regaining a majority in the United States Senate. Daines has been a key ally for embattled former President Donald J. Trump, and bridge to Senate leadership which has generally been less enthusiastic about the former president.

In Montana, Daines is supporting political newcomer Tim Sheehy in his bid to oust incumbent Sen. Jon Tester, Montana’s only Democrat elected statewide, who is seeking re-election in November.

The report, which went through many administrative steps before being adopted in its final form, was finalized in August 2023 and approved in November.

Audit findings

The FEC made two audit findings for Daines’ successful re-election campaign in 2020. One other area of concern was noted, but because the audit’s findings only become official when a majority of members concur, it was included in the report, but not adopted.

The first finding showed that Daines didn’t disclose five obligations and debts totaling $265,217. The amount ties back to ad buying that the Daines campaign said was pending, but not incurred when it was billed for the commercial.

“Steve Daines For Montana did not provide additional documentation, such as email communication with the vendor to substantiate this position,” the report said.

Furthermore, the FEC disagreed that nearly $50,000 in other invoices did not need reporting.

“Steve Daines For Montana contends that the absence of this debt reporting is immaterial to the public record,” it told the FEC. However, the commission did not buy that argument.

The other significant finding demonstrated weak accounting practices when it came to disclosure of donations by individuals and political committees. During a field audit, the staff reviewed receipts to ensure the accuracy of the reports that Daines’ campaign filed.

Auditors said they identified more than $600,000 in itemized receipts that were improperly reported or not reported at all, and that Steve Daines For Montana received a total of more than $1.4 million in net proceeds from joint fundraising and joint fundraising committees that also was misreported.

While the Daines campaign objected to the findings, the FEC reported that Daines — even after the errors were noted — updated its fundraising filing, but “the amended reports did not materially correct the public record.”

“Nearly all of the identified errors for contributions from individuals remained inaccurately disclosed,” it said.

The report noted that the Daines campaign repeatedly objected to the audit findings, saying that “minor reporting errors that in no way materially impacted the public record or deprived anyone of information.”

In the end, the commission endorsed the finding that the Daines campaign failed to disclose nearly $1 million in campaign receipts.

Follow-up questions to Daines’ political staff were sent last week by the Daily Montanan, but they went unanswered.

Additional issue

In order to accept a finding, the FEC must have four votes. One particular issue that didn’t get the votes needed, but was included in the findings of the report, indicates that Steve Daines For Montana received excessive contributions of $496,604.

The FEC notes that there are several remedies for campaigns to correct the issues, including issuing refunds for the excessive amounts or “disgorging” the overpayments to the U.S. Treasury.

The FEC auditors said that the Daines campaign also failed to provide proof that it returned the money.

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