The Federal Election Commission has posted a copy of the audit done on the 2003-2004 reelection campaign of former U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, a Republican.
The audit is available here.
Readers can make up their own minds about some of Istook’s expenses that the FEC determined to be personal, rather than campaign-related.
For instance, Istook said he accidentally used his campaign credit card for some expenses that were clearly not for the campaign, including jewelry and groceries. Which raises the questions: How many times can that mistake happen and, if it did happen, why wasn’t it caught by Istook or the campaign before the FEC had to step in?
But it’s the totality of the problems found by the FEC that is _ truly _ extraordinary, particularly for someone who had been in Congress for so long (his first race was in 1992). The FEC sends letters to hundreds of campaigns noting problems with their reports on donations and expenditures, giving campaigns the chance to correct them. But audits are highly unusual.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, was running for the Senate for the first time in 2004, but he had been in the House for six years and, presumably, knew something about the obligations for reporting donations.
But his 2004 campaign finance reporting was also a mess and the FEC audited it as well. The results of his audit are available here.
The most glaring findings in the Coburn audit are those involving a lack of reporting; that is, the Coburn campaign didn’t supply the necessary information about the people giving him money or even that money was donated, at least under the legal deadlines.
More than $350,000 in donations that rolled in during the last days before the election were supposed to be reported immediately. They weren’t. And the transparency that is an important objective of campaign finance laws wasn’t provided.
Coburn’s campaign was fined about $31,000 for his problems. It’s not clear yet how much, if anything, Istook will be fined.
Candidates generally have staff, using software specifically designed for FEC forms, fill out the campaign reports. And that was the case with Istook and Coburn.
Both have accepted responsibility for the mistakes, acknowledging that the buck stops with them.
Coburn had inexperienced people performing crucial functions on his campaign, and he paid for it. Istook’s people had been around for previous elections cycles, including his former campaign manager, Kyle Loveless. According to the audit, Loveless also had to reimburse the campaign for expenses that were deemed to be personal.