Another Headache for Specter as FEC Allows Group to Press for Refunds to Republicans
By Dan Eggen
Newly minted Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter (Penn.), who already faces challenges from the left and right in 2010, may soon have to cope with demands for refunds by angry Republican contributors under a ruling issued Thursday by the Federal Election Commission.
The FEC voted 4-2 to advise the Club for Growth -- a conservative group tied to Specter's main GOP rival -- that it was within its legal rights to contact Specter donors and remind them of his pledge to provide refunds to any contributors unhappy with his party switch. When Specter announced he was leaving the GOP earlier this year, he promised to return campaign contributions from the 2010 cycle "upon request."
"The commission's decision is good news for thousands of Americans who contributed to Specter's campaign to elect a Republican, not to strengthen Harry Reid's Democratic majority," said the group's executive director, David Keating, referring to the senate majority leader from Nevada. "We look forward to helping Senator Specter make good on his commitment."
The FEC's decision provides another political headache for Specter, whose transformation into a Democrat has attracted more challenges than expected. Specter acknowledged that he switched parties in part to avoid a bruising primary fight with former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), who nearly beat him the last time around and was running well ahead in polling among GOP voters. But now Specter also faces a challenge from the left by Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Penn.), who argues that Specter is not a true Democrat.
Thursday's ruling means Specter also will face a concerted effort to drain his finances by the Club for Growth, which was previously headed by Toomey. Although the Specter campaign gave back more than $200,000 during the second quarter of this year, that amounts to a small fraction of the nearly $11 million he has reported raising since his last election in 2004, according to campaign finance reports. As of June 30, Specter reported $7.5 million on hand compared to $4.3 million for Sestak.
Chris Nicholas, Specter's campaign manager, declined to comment.
The FEC, which keeps tight restrictions on the use of donor lists, ruled that the Club for Growth can send one letter or make one telephone call to each donor, but the group cannot sell their names, addresses and telephone numbers to others, or request contributions.
According to the opinion, any mailings "would inform contributors to the Specter Committee of Senator Specter's decision to switch to the Democratic Party and his policy of refunding contributions upon request. A preprinted form letter requesting a contribution refund and envelope addressed directly to the Specter Committee would be enclosed with the letter." In the case of telephone calls, the donor would be asked if they would like information about how to request a refund.
"Both the letter and the telephone call would inform contributors that the Specter Committee is not required by statute or regulations to refund these contributions," the ruling adds.
August 27, 2009; 5:34 PM ET
Categories: 2010 Campaign , Fundraising Circuit
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