The Federal Election Commission fined the 2016 presidential campaign committee for Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., $21,000 over its handling of financial contributions, according to documents obtained by the Louisville Courier Journal.
The newspaper notes that the complaint originated from the late J. Russell Lloyd, the former chairman of the Louisville Democratic Party, in November 2016, which led to an inquiry into Paul’s PAC, Freedom for All Americans, formerly known as Rand Paul for President, Inc. This was the senator’s main campaign committee during his unsuccessful presidential bid ahead of the 2016 election.
Paul's Senate office attributed the error to complex and cumbersome bureaucratic regulations.
“Campaign regulations are Byzantine, but we have always attempted to comply," sthe statement said. "As do all campaigns, we hire teams of professionals to fill out thousands of forms. In this case we filed honestly and returned all excess contributions all the way back in 2016. It is not uncommon for large national campaigns to have a missed deadline that is then rectified.”
The FEC concluded that there was reason to believe the PAC had violated federal rules regarding financial contributions, according to the documents obtained by the Courier Journal, over its failure to refund over $165,000 in contributions made during the election or redesignate them for another election within 60 days of former President Donald Trump being named the official Republican nominee.
The FEC’s Reports Analysis Division added in another referral that the Paul campaign committee failed to refund more than $250,000 in contributions within 60 days of the senator suspending his presidential bid in February 2016, though the committee claimed that suspending a campaign and withdrawing as a candidate are not the same thing, and that Paul therefore remained a candidate until Trump was officially the winner of the nomination in July 2016. The FEC noted that even if this were the case, Paul still failed to refund $165,749 within the 60-day time limit following Trump securing the nomination.
A Paul spokesperson declined to comment to the newspaper. Adav Noti, senior director and chief of staff for the Campaign Legal Center, said that a fine of this amount is notable.
''In the big picture, the FEC is legendary for not really penalizing anybody, so any penalty of significance from the FEC is noteworthy," he said. "And $21,000 — although it’s not a bank-breaker for a presidential campaign, it’s not nothing, either."
Noti added that most presidential campaigns have ''ample time'' within the 60 day limit to refund or move their funding if they fail to win their party’s nomination.
"It is not common for a presidential campaign to be penalized for failing to refund donors money as required by law," he said.
The FEC eventually reached an agreement with Paul’s PAC, which was formerly his presidential campaign committee, which stated that the group ''ultimately remedied all general election contributions'' to the senator’s presidential campaign, but broke federal rules by failing to refund the $165,749 in contributions within the time limit.
Other documents obtained by the Courier Journal claim another alleged violation of campaign finance rules on the part of Paul’s leadership PAC, the Reinventing a New Direction PAC, also known as RAND PAC.
According to these documents, the FEC claims that ''the evidence suggests'' the group paid expenses on Paul’s behalf prior to the launch of his presidential campaign that were most likely related to that campaign. The agency also claims that it has reason to believe that Paul and his campaign committee took in excessive in-kind contributions that they did not properly disclose. Both committees have denied breaking federal law, according to these documents.
Noti told the newspaper that "the allegations regarding the leadership PAC are quite serious, and the fact that the FEC in 2019 (which was extremely gridlocked, even by FEC standards) found reason to believe the law had been violated is an indication that the violations were also exceptionally well-substantiated."
He added, "It will be important to see whatever explanation the full file provides as to why the FEC dismissed those violations in 2021," he added.
Editors's note: This story have been updated to reflect comment from Sen. Rand Paul's Senate office.
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