Group that targeted Veronica Escobar in race to replace Beto O'Rourke facing 2nd complaint
A second complaint has been filed against a group that raised money to attack Veronica Escobar in a heated primary election to replace U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke in Congress.
The Campaign Legal Center, a Washington-based nonprofit that advocates for the enforcement of federal campaign finance laws, filed a complaint against the Keep El Paso Honest PAC on Aug. 9 with the Federal Election Commission.
The 11-page complaint argues that the political action committee violated the Federal Election Campaign Act by failing to file the required expenditure reports.
Keep El Paso Honest, a super PAC run by political consultant Carlos Sierra, formed late last year to campaign against Escobar. The PAC supported Dori Fenenbock, a former president of the El Paso Independent School District board of trustees, in the race.
Sierra told the El Paso Times in February that the PAC spent more than $10,000 in advertising and received about $125,000 in donations. The PAC has missed multiple campaign filing deadlines to report its donors and expenditures.
Escobar, who in March won the Democratic nomination in the race for the 16th Congressional District, had previously filed a complaint asking the FEC to investigate Keep El Paso Honest.
Sierra told the El Paso Times earlier this year that the sole purpose of the PAC was to prevent Escobar from winning the election. On Thursday, he said he was not involved in the filing process and he couldn't answer questions related to the complaints.
"I was the general consultant and strategist. I had nothing to do with filings so can’t answer any questions in regard to the complaints," Sierra wrote in an email to El Paso Times.
Lindsey Workman, the PAC treasurer, could not be reached for comment.
Violating election laws by failing to disclose donors
Brendan Fischer, director of the federal reform program at the Campaign Legal Center, said the organization's complaint against the Keep El Paso Honest PAC has nothing to do with Escobar's complaint.
The complaint against Keep El Paso Honest was one of three complaints that the Campaign Legal Center filed last week against super PACs, claiming that the PACs were ignoring their reporting obligation.
But Fischer said he has confidence that the Federal Election Commission will take action against Keep El Paso Honest because the PAC's actions stand out from others.
"I'm not aware of any super PAC that has been active in an election all together failing to file legally required reports," he said.
Fischer added, "This one though, I think it's worse than the other two. In both of those instances, the super PACs eventually filed their required reports. They filed reports disclosing their expending and also reporting their donors. Keep El Paso Honest, however, has failed to file anything."
In its complaint, the Campaign Legal Center is asking the FEC to conduct an investigation and to sanction the PAC "for any and all violations, including civil penalties sufficient to deter future violations."
"This appears to be an instance of a super PAC violating one of the clear requirements in federal campaign finance law," he said.
"It's clear that a super PAC that spends money in an election has to file reports disclosing its spending and also disclosing their donors, and Keep El Paso Honest has failed to do that," he added.
Under federal campaign finance laws, any candidate or PAC that spends more than $10,000 in a calendar year on communications to advocate for or against a particular candidate is required to submit a disclosure report with the commission.
No updates on first campaign finance complaint against PAC
After Escobar filed a complaint against Keep El Paso Honest, Sierra told the El Paso Times that voters were concerned with whether his PAC is following federal guidelines. Instead, he argued, that voters cared more about the message his PAC was trying to present.
Escobar said she has not received an update on her complaint since the letter of acknowledgement she received when she first filed the complaint.
Escobar said the people behind the Keep El Paso Honest PAC have made it clear that they have no intention of following the law.
"They are deliberately and willfully withholding information from the FEC and most importantly from the public," she said.
Fischer said it can take a year or more for the Federal Election Commission to resolve a complaint.
Christian Hilland, a spokesman for the FEC in Washington, D.C., said the commission can fine the PAC based on the number of days the report is late, the level of activity that is supposed to be reported and whether the report was time sensitive.
He said every case is different and it’s handled independent from others.
While the FEC only has civil jurisdiction over federal campaign finance law, the commission has authority to take a committee or candidate to court as well, he said.
“But normally we try to pursue this through the administrative fine process,” Hilland said.
He said the FEC makes every effort to help the committee comply with the law by reaching out to them by phone, email and mail.
After the primary election, the Federal Elections Commission sent two requests for additional information to PAC treasurer Lindsey Workman — one on May 1 stating that the PAC failed to file the April quarterly report that covers contributions and expenditures from Jan. 1 to March 31, and another letter on Aug. 2 stating that the PAC failed to file the July quarterly report that covers contributions and expenditures from April 1 to June 30.
Both letters stated that "the failure to timely file a complete report may result in civil money penalties, an audit or legal enforcement action."
Aileen B. Flores may be reached at 546-6362; email@example.com; @AileenBFlores on Twitter.