Tea Party Express didn’t report almost $1 million spent to defeat Obama, Lugar: FEC

By David Pendered

The Federal Election Commission has determined that Tea Party Express did not disclose nearly $1 million it spent in 2011 and 2012 on efforts to defeat Barrack Obama and Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar. Lugar lost his seat to a tea party candidate despite strong support from former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn.

Sam Nunn, Dick Lugar

Tea Party Express did not report expenditures aimed at defeating then Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), who lost the 2012 primary election to a tea party candidate. Credit:

The FEC approved recommendations from its audit staff on Nov. 2, 2016. The report was distributed last week.

According to the final audit, TPE did not respond to an interim audit report. TPE did respond to the final audit:

  • “[D]uring the time of activity it experienced challenges with the data. TPE stated it was willing to amend reports as needed, however, has not done so as of yet. As such, TPE has not complied with the recommendation.”

TPE is a California-based political action committee. Founder Sal Russo got his start in politics in Ronald Reagan’s 1966 gubernatorial campaign, according to report by factcheck.org. TPE espouses a conservative agenda similar to that of tea party groups in Georgia.

Nunn, a Democrat, mourned Lugar’s loss of the Republican primary election to Richard Mourdock., a tea party hardliner. Nunn was quoted in a story that appeared in SaportaReport.com saying that he sought to raise money for Lugar’s reelection campaign.

Nunn said he normally doesn’t raise money for any candidate. But the loss of another moderate prompted him to send out a fundraising letter about three weeks before the day of the primary election.

tea party express

Tea Party Express failed to disclose almost $1 million spent in the 2012 election cycle to defeat President Obama and Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), according to an audit by the Federal Election Commission. Credit: teapartyexpress.org

“The extremes are in charge of both parties to a greater degree than they have been in the past,” Nunn said. “If middle America doesn’t assert itself in the near future, we are not going to be able to solve the big problems looming before us.

Nunn and Lugar crossed the aisle in 1991 to co-sponsor legislation following the demise of the former Soviet Union. The purpose was to establish a program to secure and dismantle weapons of mass destruction and their associated infrastructure located in the states of the former Soviet Union, according to a report by armscontrolcenter.org.

The FEC’s final audit found a total of five errors committed by TPE: Misstatement of Financial Activity; Disclosure of Occupation/Name of Employer; Recordkeeping for Communications; and Failure to Itemize Debt and Obligations.

The fifth error is titled Reporting of Apparent Independent Expenditures. Auditors found evidence that TPE created materials intended to defeat Obama and Lugar. TPE did not disclose its spending on the materials, according to the audit.

The staff recommendation stated:

  • “[T]he Audit staff recommended that the Commission find that TPE did not properly disclose independent expenditures totaling $848,522.”
Barack Obama, 2012

Barack Obama was reelected in 2012 despite opposition funded by Tea Party Express through expenditures revealed in an audit conducted by the Federal Election Commission. Credit: tcphoto2012.wordpress.com

The FEC auditors noted that TPE correctly disclosed independent expenditures that totaled $680,735. An independent expenditure is defined as, “an expenditure made for a communication expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate that is not made in cooperation, consultation, or concert with or at the request or suggestion of a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee, or their agents, or a political party or its agents.”

FEC auditors that TPE violated the provisions. TPE:

  • “[M]ade additional media- related expenditures totaling $848,522 and disclosed them as operating expenditures or other disbursements that may be considered independent expenditures.”

Here’s how the audit breaks down the expenses:

  • $829,427 – most of it associated with 17 fundraising letters that advocated the election or defeat of clearly identified candidates;
  • $15,883 – for communication that could only be interpreted as advocating the election or defeat of one clearly identified candidate;
  • Unknown costs, because no invoices or disbursements could be identified, for eight telecommunication scripts that contained language that called for the, “defeat of Barack Obama”, “elect a new president”, or “put Ronmey and Paul in White House.”
  • $3,212 for seven independent expenditure emails. Of this sum, five emails priced at $2,288 contained express advocacy language calling for the “defeat of Dick Lugar.” Two emails priced at $924 called for the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate. However, the invoice could not be traced to the disbursement database or bank.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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