Federal Election Commission Fines 2008 Campaign — Five Years After It Ended

Former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT)

Former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT)

Former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) ended his presidential campaign in January 2008, after a weak showing in the Iowa caucuses. More than five years later, the largely-paralyzed Federal Election Commission (FEC) has fined his long-defunct campaign $42,000 for failure to properly report campaign contributions.

Because Dodd’s campaign was one of eight 2008 presidential committees to take public matching funds, it agreed to an automatic audit of campaign fundraising. That routine investigation — completed in April 2012 — found that Dodd’s campaign failed to report $764,966 in gross receipts. The matter was then referred for possible enforcement action. Nearly a year later, the Dodd 2008 campaign and the FEC signed a conciliation agreement in January. The commission accepted the agreement and make it public on Friday — more than two years after Dodd retired from public life.

Meredith McGehee, policy director at the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center, told ThinkProgress that the delayed and weak action by the FEC “shows what a joke they’ve become… They’re picking on a campaign that was incredibly unsuccessful. The candidate is no longer in office. It’s kind of like going after the mosquitoes when the room is full of lions and tigers and bears. Mosquitoes are bad, you want to get rid of them, but what does it matter if you’re being eaten by the lion, the tiger, or the bear?”

The five-year lag time, she noted, is a result of under-funding by Congress. “They just don’t have enough resources to do this is what most people would consider an effective way.” That lack of effective enforcement sends a signal to other political committees that they have little to fear if they fail to accurately report their own finances. “A lot of the effective enforcement is done when people see that there is enforcement, they self-enforce. When they don’t see enforcement, they don’t self-enforce, say ‘let’s roll the dice.’ When you win your election, the fine is just the cost of doing business.”

Audits from the 2000 campaign were mostly completed within two years. But a number of new FEC policies, instituted since, have further slowed the process. With the sequestration likely to force spending cuts at the FEC, it remains to be seen whether the three 2012 campaigns that accepted matching funds will have their audits completed by 2017.

Chris Dodd for President’s end of 2012 report showed the committee with about $18,000 in the bank. There is little forcing it to actually pay the fine and raising money for failed campaigns after the fact can be incredibly difficult — former Sen. John Glenn (D-OH) spent 23 years paying of the campaign debt from his 1984 campaign.

In addition to paying a $42,000 fine, the conciliation agreement stipulates that Dodd 2008 will “cease and desist” from violating disclosure laws going forward.