In a story breaking on the influential Crooks & Liars political blog, it would appear that 1st CD Democratic candidate Suzan DelBene may have violated US House ethics rules without ever having been elected to office. If the allegations are true, she could be facing a federal felony, punishable by heavy fines of up to $50,000 and possible jail time.
The author of the piece, David Niewert, writes:
Following a tip, I began looking around recently for the federal Financial Disclosure Statements for the Democratic candidates involved in Washington’s 1st Congressional District primary race, the election for which will be next week (but for which mail-in voting is currently under way).
I was particularly interested in digging up the information on Suzan DelBene, the Microsoft gazillionaire who is almost entirely self-financing her campaign this year. Indeed, she just wrote her campaign another $900,000 in checks to pay for all the TV-ad time she’s bought and is now blanketing our local media airwaves with here in the Seattle area.
But when I contacted the office the Clerk of the U.S. House, where these statements are filed, I was told that DelBene had not filed any Financial Disclosure Statement for 2011.
This is most peculiar. These statements are in fact required by law — the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, which clearly states:
“Title I of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, as amended (5 U.S.C. app. 4 §§ 101-111) (EIGA) requires Members, officers, certain employees of the U.S. House of Representatives and related offices, and candidates for the House of Representatives to file Financial Disclosure Statements with the Clerk of the House of Representatives.
Individuals are required to file a Financial Disclosure Statement once they qualify as a candidate by raising or spending more than $5,000 in a campaign for election to the House of Representatives.”
In fact this is not a new charge as it was first alleged in a May, 2012 diary on the DailyKos by blogger Dante Atkins (something Niewert points out later in his piece). However, Niewert has done a bit more digging around and ran his assertions by an elections attorney who he quotes as saying, “By the time Suzan DelBene paid her new finance director over $5000 last fall, she became a federal candidate. Once she did that, she was no longer ‘testing the waters,’ and had to file her financial disclosure within thirty days. The law is clear on this.”
DelBene campaign spokesman, Viet Shelton, has responded to both Dante Atkins and David Niewert with the same denial of wrongdoing on the part of DelBene. However in reading the responses it seems that Shelton is only creating additional confusion by first suggesting the filings in question are related to closing out her 2010 race against 8th CD Republican congressman Dave Reichert and then later stating that in 2011 DelBene was only “testing the waters” and did not become a candidate again until 2012.
I have requested further clarification from Viet Shelton but, as of this writing have not heard back from him. I have reviewed the documents in question as well as read the House ethics rules and quite frankly would have to agree with both Atkins and Niewert that the forms relate specifically to the 2012 primary contest (although I find reference to both the 8th and the 1st CDs). Regardless of the district however, the assertion by Niewert that there is the potential for political damage would seem to very real. As he wrote to Shelton in preparing for his piece in Crooks and Liars.com, “I stand by my assertion that your campaign is at severe risk of being the target of a politically motivated ethics complaint that could severely damage your candidacy and risk handing the seat to the Republican, should you advance to the general.”
With just two weeks to go before the votes are tallied in the August 7th primary, DelBene appears to be gaining the momentum in the race; no doubt on the back of her significant personal financial investment in the campaign. New reporting out today shows her total personal contribution to the campaign is now in excess of $2.3 million. It is hard to say at this point if these allegations will have any impact on the outcome of the primary but it is certain that, even if the voters do not take notice, the lone Republican in the race John Koster (and the right-wing blogosphere that supports him) surely has.