Fact Check: Greenfield ad throws punches at Sen. Ernst’s campaign financing
Source: This time we’re putting Theresa Greenfield’s newest attack ad through our I9 Fact Check. This ad is directly from her campaign.
Claim #1: I won’t take a dime of corporate PAC money, period
This is a complicated claim, but the key words are “I” and “corporate”. The promise to not take any corporate PAC money has become a trend in Democratic politics, however, it’s an easy pledge for a challenger, like Greenfield, to make. The Center for Responsive Politics, which is a nonprofit and non-partisan comprehensive resource for federal campaign contributions, found data showing “corporate PACs give almost all their money to incumbents to curry favor with lawmakers.”
And if you go through the most recent FEC filing, the campaign hasn’t directly accepted cash from Corporate PACs.
However, Greenfield has accepted money from Leadership PACs, which are PACs established by current and former prominent political leaders. Many of those Leadership PACs have accepted donations from Corporate PACs, which then donate to Greenfield’s campaign.
So while Greenfield hasn’t directly accepted corporate PAC money, she’s getting those dollars thanks to a pass through-what some might call a loophole, which is why we’re giving this claim a B.
Claim: Joni Ernst has taken over $2 million from Corporate PACs.
This claim is displayed on the screen along with the words Wall Street and Drug Company PAC Contributions.
Joni Ernst’s campaign has taken donations from corporate PACs, including from some Wall Street and drug companies. However, the number $2 million is debatable depending on how you crunch the numbers.
The Center for Responsive Politics said Ernst has received only $1.8 million from PACs during this election cycle. If you go throughout her political career she’s received about $2.7 million from business PACs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, since 2013. Broken down by industry in total donations, Ernst has received about $75,000 from pharmaceutical PACs and $52,000 from securities and exchange related PACs, far below $2 million. Insurance ($145,000) and Agriculture ($130,000) where the top two industry PACs that donated to Ernst’s campaign.
So while Ernst has taken corporate donations but the ad overstates the total slightly for the current cycle and gives the impression that most of it is from Wall Street and Drug Companies. That’s why this claim gets a C.
Claim: #3: Her campaign was even caught red-handed taking illegal contributions from corporations.
The FEC fined Ernst’s campaign around $15,000 in 2014 for accepting excessive contributions and failing to refund it to donors in a timely fashion and failing to accurately disclose debts on its original 2014 July Quarterly Report to the FEC.
Federal law puts a limit, up to $2,600 during the 2014 election cycle, on the amount an individual can make to any given candidate in a single election cycle. If somebody gives over the legal limit then the campaign as 60 days of the contribution to either refund the excessive portion of the contribution or obtain a reattribution from the contributor. If it’s from a corporation then the candidate has only 30 days for the same process.
However, Ernst’s campaign, according to the FEC, had donations over the federal limit in multiple FEC filings. This was related to 26 individuals, one partnership, one multicandidate PAC, one non-multicandidate PAC and three corporations. The total amount was worth around $35,000. This report says Ersnt’s campaign did return the excessive contributions, but did so outside the regulatory timeframe.
Ernst’s campaign blamed the sheer volume of donations and the third party company it used to manage its campaign donations. These refunds are very common for political campaigns to have to manage and also to mess up. President Obama’s campaign was fined $375,000 for his 2008 campaign almost identical violations.
Federal law also requires campaigns to report debts over $500 on the date a debt was incurred. If the exact amount of the debt is not known, then federal law requires the campaign to estimate and then amend the report.
Ernst’s campaign filed a FEC quarterly report with no debts and then amended it to show over $570,000 in debts, thus violating federal law.
The campaign, in the FEC report, said it did not intend to violate the act or the commission’s regulations. It did refund the excess donations before the FEC’s formal investigation but still after the deadline to face a fine. So while the ad makes this sound more nefarious, the simplicity in its language is why the claim gets an A.
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