Specter campaign fined for excessive donations

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WASHINGTON - The Federal Election Commission announced Thursday that it has fined the campaign of Sen. Arlen Specter $10,900 and ordered it to repay $37,950 in excessive contributions from his 2004 re-election campaign.

The Pennsylvania Republican-turned-Democrat, who's running for re-election again this year, accepted about $719,000 in contributions from individuals and $21,850 from political action committees that exceeded federal giving limits. The Specter campaign gave most of that money back, but the FEC found that $37,950 remains to be refunded.

The FEC found campaign treasurer Stephen Harmelin, a Philadelphia attorney, to be at fault for the contributions and noted that Mr. Specter was in no way at fault. The FEC and the campaign agreed on the penalties and the facts of the case.

During the 2004 campaign, individuals could not give more than $2,000 and PACs no more than $5,000 to a single campaign for each election - with the primary and general election counting separately toward those limits.

Overpayments are common due to oversights by donors; the burden is on the campaign to keep track and issue refunds if necessary.

The 2004 Specter campaign, according an FEC audit, did not give its refunds within the legally mandated 60-day window and did not give back all its required refunds.

The Specter campaign contended that most of the disputed contributions were made during primary season and were re-assigned as general election contributions within the legal limits, but the FEC found that the campaign did not appropriately notify donors of this. The illness and death of a key staffer, the Specter campaign told the FEC, was a partial reason for not sending out all the notices.

The FEC's audit of the Specter campaign covered from January 2003 to the end of 2004. During that time the campaign raised about $15 million and spent $20 million, as it entered 2003 with more than $5 million in the bank.

In addition to the excessive contributions, the FEC found minor bookkeeping problems with campaign records, which the campaign corrected.

In the 2004 campaign, Mr. Specter narrowly defeated Pat Toomey in a Republican primary and defeated Democrat Joe Hoeffel in the general election. Mr. Specter, who switched to the Democratic Party last year, is up for re-election again this year and faces a primary fight from Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Delaware County, and a potential rematch with Mr. Toomey in the general election.

Mr. Harmelin, a longtime Specter campaign treasurer, has been replaced by Diane Evans as treasurer for the 2010 cycle, according to FEC filings.

Daniel Malloy: dmalloy@post-gazette.com or 202-445-9980. Follow him on Twitter at PG_in_DC.


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