Democrats are scrambling in the wake of the Boston Globe‘s revelation that a major donor may have illegally reimbursed partners for campaign contributions, with three candidates already pledging to return their donations.
The Boston Globe reported on Saturday evening that the Thornton Law Firm gave partners bonus checks that mirrored their political contributions, a potential violation of federal law. The top two recipients, New Hampshire Democrat Maggie Hassan and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, pledged to return nearly $100,000 in contributions after the GOP called criticized the "tainted donations."
Democrats faced immediate criticism from Republican campaigns for accepting these donations. Liz Johnson, spokeswoman for Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.), told the Washington Free Beacon that the investigation raised "serious ethical and legal questions" about Democratic fundraising practices.
"In addition to being a top recipient of these straw donations, Governor Hassan is under scrutiny for ramming through major state contracts benefitting her campaign donors, and she previously took tens of thousands of dollars in illegal contributions which she was forced to return. This is a troubling pattern that raises serious ethical and legal questions," Johnson said.
Hassan's campaign pledged ignorance to Thornton's ethical issues, while promising to return the cash.
"We had no idea about the practices inside this firm, and we assume that as the Globe reported, none of the other Republican or Democratic candidates who received contributions knew either," Hassan spokesman Aaron Jacobs said in a Sunday statement.
On Monday, Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate Katie McGinty joined Feingold and Hassan in returning the donation, telling the Washington Free Beacon that "the campaign will be returning all $25,000 in contributions from this firm to the Treasury."
Missouri Attorney General Jason Kander received $25,000 for his Senate campaign. Nevada Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto received $23,300. Florida Senate hopeful Rep. Patrick Murphy received $21,800. All three also pledged to return that money on Monday, according to Politico.
The Thornton Law Firm has contributed $750,000 to federal candidates with nearly all of those donations going to Democrats in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The firm’s employees have contributed $3 million to political candidates since 2008 with just $58,600 of that going to Republicans. The Globe reviewed bonus checks issued by the firm and found that they correlated with campaign donations and in some cases had the names of candidates written in the memo.
Many other Democrats running in some of the nation's most critical Senate races who have cashed campaign checks from the firm have yet to return the donations.
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth each received $22,500. Former Ohio Sen. Ted Strickland received $12,500. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren each received more than $10,000.
Republican Senate candidate Darryl Glenn called on Sen. Bennet to return his Thornton donations, saying the $22,500 haul demonstrated his commitment to "special interests."
The Bennet campaign pledged to use the donations to pay down the national debt in the wake of the report, according to spokesman Andrew Zucker.
"We returned the donations to the Treasury Department to go toward reducing the debt," he said.
None of the other campaigns returned Washington Free Beacon emails or phone calls requesting comment. Neither the Thornton law firm, nor its lawyer have returned request for comment, though both have denied any wrongdoing.
Update 11:52 A.M.: This post has been updated to reflect comment from Senate candidate Darryl Glenn.
Update 1:05 P.M.: This post has been updated to reflect comment rom Michael Bennet's campaign.