Groups to file FEC, DOJ complaint over pro-Romney cash

WASHINGTON Fri Aug 5, 2011 3:28pm EDT

U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney greets voters during a campaign stop in Los Angeles, California July 20, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney greets voters during a campaign stop in Los Angeles, California July 20, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two campaign finance watchdogs are asking the Federal Election Commission and Department of Justice to investigate a $1 million donation given to a pro-Mitt Romney PAC by a corporation that no longer exists, the groups said on Friday.

W Spann LLC formed in March, donated the money in April and dissolved itself in July, shortly before campaign finance reporting deadlines, media reports say.

The recipient was Restore Our Future, a super PAC formed by three former aides to Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and leading Republican presidential candidate.

"Restore our Future is an independent group and all questions about their contributions and events should be brought to them," the Romney campaign said in an e-mailed statement Friday.

The watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and The Campaign Legal Center, said they would file their complaint with the FEC and DOJ Friday.

"We are urging them to investigate whether or not this organization W Spann LLC and the humans or corporations or whatever is behind it with money has potentially violated any federal campaign finance law," said Paul Ryan, the attorney drafting the complaint for the Legal Center.

Romney leads the Republican cash race, having raised more than $18 million for his presidential campaign by the quarter ending in June. Almost all of that -- 94 percent -- is from large individual contributions, with only $89,000 from PACs, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Romney lost a presidential bid in 2008 but is the front-runner in the 2012 election race for the Republican nomination to oppose President Barack Obama.

Restore Our Future is reported to have pulled in at least $10 million for Romney so far.

OpenSecrets does not list the group among the new "Super PACs" created since the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in January of 2010, which lifted limitations on corporations' ability to contribute to campaigns. A site search for ROF among PACs also found no results.

The watchdog groups said their complaint will be based on two campaign finance laws. One prohibits a person or entity from making a contribution using the name of another.

The other requires registration with the FEC by any group that meets the definition of a political committee whose major purpose is to affect elections and has $1,000 or more in expenditures.

"If W Spann LLC itself meets the definition of a political committee, then it should've showed up at the FEC to tell the public and the world where it got its million," Ryan said.

The watchdog groups said that thus far there has been no explanation forthcoming from W Spann LLC -- which no longer exists, the Restore Our Future PAC or representatives for the Romney campaign.

'NO INFORMATION'

"They are offering no information on why they appear to have existed for a limited number of weeks and do not appear to have done a whole lot besides issue a check for a million dollars to this super PAC ... and then conveniently dissolved prior to the reporting," said David Vance, communications and research director for the Legal Center.

The watchdog groups fear such incidents will continue and campaign finance will remain firmly in gray territory after Citizens United.

"To paraphrase, they said, 'Yes, we're letting corporations

back into elections, but we have good public disclosure laws,'" Paul said.

"The reality is activities like this million dollar contribution illustrate that we don't know where the money is coming from."

Fred Wertheimer, president and founder of Democracy 21, which is jointly filing the complaint, said that before the decision, such an incident would not have been possible.

"The fact that this contribution was made is a direct result of the decision freeing up corporations to participate in federal elections," said Wertheimer.

Paul cautioned that as of yet, the mysterious donation is not a clear violation of campaign finance regulations.

"I personally would not characterize it as slam dunk- blatant disregard for the laws in that we don't know yet what's going on," said Paul. "But because we have zero information on how the money was derived, it raises red flags."

(Editing by Jerry Norton)

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