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Ethics Group: McCaskill Admitted Campaign Finance Violations in Politico Column

Claire McCaskill / AP
• August 14, 2015 9:34 am

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An ethics watchdog group filed a legal complaint against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) on Thursday, saying she admitted to violating campaign finance laws in a Wednesday column for Politico.

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, headed by former U.S. Attorney Matthew Whittaker, alleges that McCaskill made an illegal in-kind contribution to the primary campaign of then-Rep. Todd Akin (R., Mo.), who unsuccessfully challenged McCaskill in 2012.

CNN reported on the Federal Election Commission complaint on Friday:

"Senator McCaskill did not simply meddle in another party's primary, rather, she crossed the legal line and made a prohibited donation in violation of federal law," said Matthew Whitaker, executive director of the group, in the complaint.

The complaint says McCaskill admitted to helping Akin win the Republican primary because she believed she could beat him in the general election. The Missouri senator wrote in a passage from her book "Plenty Ladylike" — which was excerpted in Politico this week — sharing how she spent $40,000 polling Missouri Republicans, and that staffers on the Akin campaign spoke with McCaskill's pollster.

Federal law limits in-kind campaign donations to $2,500, a figure the complaint says McCaskill violated by allowing her pollster to share data with the Akin campaign.

"By providing polling data and information, Senator McCaskill made an in-kind donation to a candidate that appears to be in violation of federal law," Whitaker wrote.

University of California at Irvine law professor Rick Hansen noted McCaskill’s potential legal problems in a Wednesday post on his Election Law Blog.

If she gave the campaign something worth more than the limit (which was probably $2600 in that election) she’d be giving an in-kind contribution, and a contribution worth that much would have to be reported.

Well did the Senator give Akin something of value? It looks like it. After all, we know it is valuable to him because the Senator writes "Akin did not have money for polling," and she provided the information he needed to clinch the primary (at least in the Senator’s telling). Elias’s response to this point is: "There’s no suggestion she shared ‘polling data’. She only ‘gave clearance, allowing [pollster] to speak in broad generalities." Perhaps that distinction will work, but I still think the issue is a serious one and merits a fuller analysis (and certainly fuller than I can give it now). I’m not suggesting the Senator broke the law, but there is enough here to justify a closer look.