Aaron Bennett (Credit: Ted Jackson / The Times-Picayune)
The Federal Election Commission deadlocked along party lines
on whether to hold accountable a Republican contractor who blatantly circumvented campaign finance limits. While the three Democratic commissioners
agreed that William A. “Aaron” Bennett had willfully violated federal election law by offering to reimburse friends if they donated to Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the three FEC Republicans blocked the determination and allowed Bennett to escape with a mere $4,000 fine and a warning.
Bennett admitted that after making the legal maximum contribution to Scalise’s re-election campaign in 2007, he asked three other people to contribute $2,300 each to the campaign — and reimbursed them for the $6,900 they spent.
According to the Statement of Reasons by the three Democratic FEC appointees (Chair Ellen Weintraub, Cynthia Bauerly, and Steven Walther), there was clear evidence both that Bennett circumvented federal contribution limits and did so knowing full well that doing so was illegal:
According to one of the reimbursed individuals — an employee working for Bennett — Bennett stated “that he was at the maximum individual contribution [limit]” and that “he would reimburse each [individual] for the contribution.” … Based on these statements and the fact that Bennett was an experienced donor, there is reason to believe that Bennett knew that he was subject to a contribution limit and that he made an intentional attempt to evade that limit by making a contribution in another person’s name. Taken together, the facts are more than sufficient for the Commission to have found reason to believe that Bennett both knowingly and willfully made excessive contributions and knowingly and willfully made contributions in the names of other individuals.
Bennett’s political giving goes back at least to 2005, when he gave a $1,000 donation to then-Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-LA).
Despite this evidence, the three Republicans rejected the finding that the violation was “willful.” The Commission then voted, five to one, to accept a conciliation agreement that allowed Bennett to escape with a small fine.
Bennett and his family contracting business, Benetech LLC, also have come under fire for allegedly receiving improper contracts set-aside for disabled veterans and for bribing a sheriff. The New Orleans Times-Pacayune editorial board called Aaron Bennett a “crooked contractor.”
The six-person Federal Election Commission — evenly divided by law — has been largely paralyzed by three Republicans who oppose campaign finance regulation. Since the vote, Democratic Commissioner Bauerly stepped down from the commission, leaving just two Democratic commissioners. Four votes are required for any Commission action.