SarahPAC taken to task by feds for excessive contributions

OOPS: Mistakes on political donations blamed on software.

August 27, 2009 

Former Gov. Sarah Palin's political action committee gave excessive contributions to two well-known Republicans and also is facing demands from the federal government for more detailed financial information on a number of fronts.

The deficiencies are highlighted in a five-page letter sent Aug. 19 by a Federal Elections Commission staffer to SarahPAC treasurer Tim Crawford. The FEC wants answers by Sept. 24.

"Failure to adequately respond by the response date noted above could result in an audit or enforcement action," FEC campaign finance analyst Allen Norfleet wrote.

No problem, said Crawford, a Virginia-based political consultant.

SarahPAC already has sorted out the $5,000 contributions to Sens. John McCain and Lisa Murkowski and will provide all the information the FEC wants, including clarifying the work various individuals were paid to do, he said.

"I think you can say it was sloppiness on my part and my attorney's part," Crawford said, referring to the contributions. "We fouled up there. But it's been fixed." He said SarahPAC's lawyer is Mark Braden of Washington, D.C.

Under federal election law, political action committees can give candidates up to $5,000 per election if they meet certain conditions, including having at least 51 donors and contributing to at least five candidates. For other political action committees, lower limits of $2,400 an election apply. SarahPAC's official multi-candidate designation is in process, so it shouldn't have given $5,000, Crawford acknowledged.

"We jumped the gun," he said.

SarahPAC has redesignated the $5,000 going to each Republican, so that $2,400 is for the 2010 primary and another $2,400 is for the general election. The Murkowski and McCain campaigns already have refunded the remaining $200, Crawford said. Originally, the entire $5,000 was for the primary.

It's not unusual for the FEC to seek additional information or have questions. For instance, the Alaska Democratic Party has had three such requests from the FEC so far in 2009 and had 13 in 2008, according to the FEC Web site.

Crawford said SarahPAC uses election software, similar to TurboTax for income taxes, that walks aides through required disclosures. When they filed the mid-year report to the FEC, no violations were noted, so they thought they had done it correctly.

The FEC wants more information about:

• The work people are being paid to do. The SarahPAC disclosure report used terms including "administrative" and "consulting." Crawford said the FEC wants just another word of explanation, such as clerical, or fundraising.

• Travel. If more than $500 was spent on a trip, payments need to be itemized. Meghan Stapleton, SarahPAC spokeswoman, said travel invoices didn't come in until after the report was filed.

• Fundraising expenses. The FEC wants to know whether the fundraising expenses listed in the report were for specific federal candidates. Crawford said the fundraising was strictly for SarahPAC.

SarahPAC collected nearly $733,000 in donations the first half of 2009 and spent about $276,000, according to the 265-page report.

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