BOSTON The New Hampshire Democratic Party on Friday said Mitt Romney's presidential campaign may have violated election finance laws by funneling "soft money" into the Republican frontrunner's White House bid.
The party filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) suggesting that Romney could be funneling unlimited "soft money" through his state political action committees (PACs) to his federal presidential campaign.
Strict limits exist under the Federal Election Campaign Act on contributions an individual can make to a federal election campaign, compared with the unlimited funds that can be sent to a PAC by individuals or corporations.
"Credible evidence suggests laws may have been broken by Romney using 'soft money' corporate, unlimited donations to fund (his) presidential campaign," the party said.
Romney has been an aggressive fundraiser in recent years through his national Free and Strong America PAC, based in Lexington, Massachusetts, and state PACs nominally located in Alabama, New Hampshire, Iowa, Michigan, and South Carolina.
Holly Shulman, communications director of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said the financing effort "reeks of an Enron-style accounting scheme." Enron was a U.S. energy company that went bankrupt after a massive accounting fraud.
"The evidence on the public record suggests that Mr. Romney may have used funds from his federal and state PACs to pay for expenses that should have been paid for by his presidential campaign," said the six-page complaint, which was shown to Reuters.
In turn, evidence shows that many big donors to the state PACs did so anticipating a Romney presidential bid, the Democratic Party said in the complaint.
A PAC refers to a group organized to elect political candidates or to advance a political issue or legislation.
Romney campaign official Andrea Saul termed the complaint "totally political."
"For those wondering what the Obama jobs plan entails, it apparently involves hiring more lawyers at the FEC to handle frivolous complaints filed by his (President Barack Obama's) minions," Saul said.
The complaint also said that Romney used funds from the state PACs to pay top campaign staffers and consultants planning his presidential run, and that even coffee purchases by Romney's political staff were divided up and apportioned across the array of Romney's committees.
Romney's fundraising apparatus, along with his personal fortune, has made him a frontrunner to win the 2012 Republican primary and the right to challenge Obama in the election.
A former Massachusetts governor, Romney lost the 2008 Republican presidential nomination to John McCain and has high name recognition among voters.
Romney said on April 11 he was forming an "exploratory committee" to raise money for a challenge to Obama -- a step still short of announcing a full-blown presidential bid.
In its complaint, the Democrats called Romney "a declared Presidential candidate" who should have become subject to the ban on soft money contributions at least when the exploratory committee was announced.
(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Paul Simao)