Watchdog group files FEC charge against Frist for '00 filing problems

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a self-described nonprofit progressive legal watchdog group, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) yesterday against Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

CREW, whose board members include former Clinton pollster Mark Penn and wealthy Democratic donor Daniel Berger, alleges that Frist “broke the law by failing to disclose” a $1.44 million loan taken out by his 2000 campaign committee, Frist 2000 Inc.

Frist 2000 and Frist’s 1994 Senate campaign committee took out the loan jointly after the 2000 election, but only the 1994 campaign committee disclosed the loan. Frist signed the loan papers personally, according to CREW.

“Frist was clearly trying to hide the fact that his 2000 campaign was over a million dollars in debt,” said Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director.

Linus Castignani, treasurer of Frist’s 2000 campaign, said, “We have filed everything consistent with FEC regulations.”

“The filings have been at the FEC for years,” Castignani said. “If they have questions about them, they can ask. I’d be happy to discuss it.”

Larry Noble, a former FEC general counsel and the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said the FEC will review the complaint to determine whether the information was misreported by accident or intentionally.

“If done intentionally, you’re looking at a hefty penalty,” he said. “An inadvertent mistake, something a lot less.”

Noble noted that FEC financial penalties for improper reports generally “don’t go that high.” He predicted the fine might be tens of thousands of dollars but not likely to be above a hundred thousand dollars.

Frist’s campaign committees took out the loan after Frist invested $1 million of his campaign war chest in the stock market and lost money on the investment.

Noble said the complaint “raises a very question about the reporting of the loan and whether or not it was intentionally misreported to avoid public scrutiny of the stock losses.”