Ballot Box

Romney: No controversy in mystery $1M super-PAC donation

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) said Monday that he saw no controversy in a supporter's use of a shell company to donate $1 million to a super-PAC supporting Romney's presidential candidacy.

Romney wouldn't condemn Edward Conrad, a former executive at Bain Capital, the company Romney co-founded, for setting up a company to contribute the bulk sum to the Restore Our Future PAC.

Conrad revealed himself over the weekend as the individual who set up W Spann LLC, a corporation that was founded this year and dissolved shortly after contributing to Restore Our Future, a super-PAC that can receive and spend unlimited amounts of money that was founded by veterans of Romney's 2008 presidential campaign.

"I think he came out and discussed who he is," Romney said in New Hampshire, adding that he saw "no controversy" because Conrad had identified himself.

Conrad had been a previous contributor to Romney and other companies, but left-leaning watchdogs had asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to investigate the mysterious donation after NBC News brought the donation to light.

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Chaffetz's August plans indicate a challenge to Hatch

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is holding four town hall-style events in towns outside his congressional district this month, the latest sign that he is gearing up for a challenge of longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Chaffetz has not yet announced a bid against Hatch, but hinted at his intentions when discussing the events.

"You never know what the new districts might look like or what office I might run for," Chaffetz said. "It is going to be one of the wildest campaign years we have ever seen."

It would not be the first time Chaffetz challenged a long-term incumbent: He won his House seat by beating then-Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) in a primary.

Hatch, a six-term incumbent, is known as a conservative willing to buck his party on some issues, including stem cell research funding and in creating the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

He has come under fire from the Tea Party-affiliated FreedomWorks and the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, groups that consider him a top target in 2012.

The Republican nomination process in Utah is a closed process completed by party insiders, the balance of whom are more conservative than GOP primary voters in the state. They refused to re-nominate then-Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) by a wide margin last year even though polls showed Bennett competitive in the GOP primary.

Hatch has tried to showcase conservative stances since Bennett's ouster, most recently voting against the bipartisan compromise plan to raise the debt ceiling.

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Two Nevada TV stations pull NRCC ad ahead of special election

Two Reno, Nev., television stations pulled an advertisement by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) over the weekend because they deemed its charges unsubstantiated.

The stations said that the ad contained unsubstantiated charges that Democratic State Treasurer Kate Marshall, who is running for the open congressional seat, "supported a $500 million tax increase that would strangle the state's businesses."

Marshall is running against Republican Mark Amodei to fill the rest of the term left open when Dean Heller (R) was appointed to the U.S. Senate earlier this year. 

The seat, which encompasses Reno and most of the rural northern part of the state, has long been a Republican stronghold, although President Obama came within 100 votes of carrying it in 2008.

That the NRCC is spending at all in the Republican-leaning district indicates it is concerned about Amodei. He was out-fundraised two-to-one by Marshall, who has attacked him for supporting a large tax increase when he was a state senator in 2003.

Republicans have recently struggled in special elections: They are just one for seven since 2008.

In a statement to The Hill, the NRCC did not defend the specific claim it made, but continued to attack Marshall. "The fact remains that during Kate Marshall's tenure as Nevada treasurer, the economy suffered the largest increase in unemployment and home foreclosure rates in the nation," said NRCC spokesman Tyler Houlton.

Democrats need to net 24 seats total in 2012 to take back the House. Nevada will soon redraw its congressional lines and add a seat, meaning the configuration of the district will change radically no matter who wins it, so this election's impact on partisan control of the chamber is low. The special election will take place Sept. 13.

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Romney super-PAC draws FEC, DOJ complaint

The nonpartisan campaign watchdog Campaign Legal Center asked the Federal Election Commission and Department of Justice to look into possible violations of campaign finance law by a group that might have been created for the sole purpose of funneling $1 million to a Restore Our Future, a "super-PAC" created so that people could give unlimited donations toward supporting Mitt Romney's presidential bid.

On Thursday, NBC News reported that a corporation that had given $1 million to the PAC had been created just before the donation and dissolved soon after, and might have been an entity created solely to mask the identity of its backers. Although corporations can donate directly to campaigns and PACs, the law still requires disclosure of donors' names.

"This case deserves a good hard look from the agencies charged with enforcing our nation’s election laws and if violations are found they must be prosecuted vigorously to deter such violations in the future — otherwise 'straw companies' will make a mockery of campaign finance disclosure and the specter of foreign campaign contributions will hang over the process," said Paul S. Ryan, FEC program director at the Campaign Legal Center. "The case should serve as yet another wake-up call for Congress to shore up our woefully inadequate disclosure laws in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision before still more scandals emerge, further undermining the country’s faith in representative democracy."

Restore Our Future maintains that it has broken no laws. Charles Spies, the committee’s campaign treasurer, told NBC that his group "has fully complied with, and will continue to comply with, all FEC disclosure requirements."

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West Virginia Democrats play it safe with new House map

West Virginia's legislative Democrats moved towards passing a redistricting map that is very similar to the current one, rebuffing entreaties from national Democrats who hoped they would attempt to target one or both of the state's Republican House members.

The plan, which was passed by the state Senate's redistricting commission and is expected to pass both chambers, according to the Charleston Daily Mail, moves just one small county to balance population. National Democrats had hoped for a map that would put freshman Rep. David McKinley (R-W.V.) in a district with Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) or that would make his swing district more Democratic, but state legislators opted instead for a less controversial plan.

Democrats have control of very few state maps, and the national party has encouraged legislators in those states to be very aggressive in their line-drawing to give the party a chance to win back the House next year. But being overly aggressive in line-drawing can end up hurting a party — the only way to make one district more favorable is to make another less favorable.

Part of the Democratic map was due to parochial concerns. After a heated battle over new maps for their own seats in the statehouse, many legislators did not want another fight for something that did not affect them as directly, and the other maps split counties, which led to angry reaction from officials in those counties. Another reason: Democrats were concerned that if they made a map too unfavorable for Capito she would run for either the governorship or against Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) next election.

McKinley will likely still be a target for Democrats. He won his seat by less than one percentage point margin in 2010, a great year for Republicans. The Democrat he beat, former state Sen. Mike Oliverio, is considering a rematch, according to the West Virginia Gazette. The seat had been held for decades by Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who was beaten by Oliverio in a primary after he was tarred with an ethics investigation. While the district has trended Republican at the presidential level, many conservative voters in the region still vote Democratic.

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Santorum: Bachmann, others failed to lead in debt fight

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) slammed his competitors for the GOP presidential nomination Thursday evening, accusing them of mishandling the debt-ceiling debate.

Santorum singled out Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), three House members also running for president.

"They didn't do what needed to be done; we needed to balance the budget. We need to limit the size and scale of government. They kicked the can down the road," he said on Fox News. 

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Perry meets with New Hampshire Republicans

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) met with a group of New Hampshire Republicans on Thursday afternoon in Austin, Texas, according to the New Hampshire Union-Leader, the latest sign the conservative Republican is considering a presidential bid.

Perry's guests included former Rep. Chuck Douglas (R-N.H.), Deputy New Hampshire House Speaker Pam Tucker, Seacoast businessman Sean Mahoney, Seacoast activist Diane Bitter and former New Hampshire postmaster Jim Adams. Republican strategist Paul Young, who organized the meeting, also attended.

Should Perry run for president, New Hampshire could be a tough nut for the Republican to crack. The Granite State has a history of backing less socially conservative candidates in its first-in-the-nation primary, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney owns a house there, has deep connections in the state and holds consistent leads in the polls.

But Perry has one major asset there: Top adviser Dave Carney, who is running Perry's ground game, is based in New Hampshire.

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