The Federal Election Commission has slapped Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning with a $19,000 fine, saying he violated the rules and the intent of an “exploratory committee.”
The FEC ruled that Bruning knew he was going to run for U.S. Senate when he filed an “exploratory committee” in 2010.
Bruning agreed to a settlement with the FEC last month. David Cookson, his chief of staff in the Attorney General's Office, downplayed the settlement, saying such fines happen all the time. “It's really a technical, timing issue,” Cookson said.
Republican Deb Fischer beat Bruning in the U.S. Senate race last year.
Bruning was one of the first major candidates to jump into the 2012 U.S. Senate race, launching an “exploratory committee” in November 2010. At the time, Bruning sounded and acted like a candidate, saying he couldn't foresee anything that would stop him from a run.
In fact, shortly after he opened the exploratory committee, Bruning sent out a fundraising email that read: “Please help me defeat Ben Nelson in 2012 by making a contribution today.”
The Nebraska Democratic Party filed the initial complaint with the FEC, charging that Bruning had initially filed as an exploratory committee to give himself more time to hide the identity of his donors.
Exploratory committees can be used to test the waters for a candidacy. One of the advantages of an exploratory committee is that politicians can raise money without having to report the names of their donors. However, once someone is an official candidate, he or she must file a full report.
Cookson noted that Bruning's decision to initially run under the banner of exploratory committee delayed his obligation to file a full campaign finance report only by three months. If Bruning had filed as a candidate committee from the start, he would have had to file a full report on Jan. 31, 2011. As it was, he filed a list of his donors in mid-April of 2011.
The question now becomes how will Bruning pay the fine.
Federal election law allows Bruning to use money in his federal election coffers to pay the fine. However, his federal Senate committee had only about $1,000 in its account as of the last reporting period.
Bruning does have about $417,000 in his state campaign war chest for his expected re-election bid for attorney general. But that money cannot be used to pay a federal election fine, according to Frank Daley, executive director of the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.
Cookson did not know how Bruning or his U.S. Senate committee planned to pay the fine.
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