FEC fines Biden for illegal campaign contributions

Holly Bailey
The Upshot

Federal election officials have fined Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign more than $219,000 to cover excessive contributions and shoddy record-keeping during his 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination.

A report prepared in April but only approved Friday by the Federal Election Commission found Biden’s campaign had inadequately reported more than $3.7 million in spending and more than $870,000 in debts. The audit also found that Biden had been too slow to return nearly $1.2 million to donors who had already given the $2,300 contribution limit.

Ultimately, the audit found the Biden campaign had not returned $106,216 in excess contributions from donors. The audio also uncovered $85,900 in so-called “stale checks” which the campaign had paid out to cover debts and excessive contributions but the payees had never deposited the funds.

In addition, the FEC found the Biden committee had underreported the value of a charter plane flight by almost $27,000. In June 2007, the Biden campaign reimbursed GEH Air Transportation for a round-trip flight between New Hampshire and Iowa. GEH, Politico’s Ken Vogel reports, is a subsidiary of the Clinton Group, a New York hedge fund (no relation to Bill or Hillary Cinton). The campaign paid $7,911 for the flight—the equivalent of three first-class plane tickets.

But under congressional ethics rules approved in January 2007, sitting members of the Senate were required to pay the actual cost of charter travel. According to the FEC, the Biden flight should have been reimbursed at a rate of $34,800. By not doing so, they said, GEH had essentially given Biden an illegal $26,889 in-kind contribution.

To settle the audit, the Biden campaign agreed to pay $219,005. Elizabeth Alexander, a spokeswoman for the vice president, downplayed the findings, noting that the excess contributions identified by the FEC were less than 1 percent of the $12 million Biden raised and vendor errors were one-half of 1 percent.

As for the so-called "stale" checks, "This is common and obviously not in the campaign's control," Alexander said in an email to The Upshot.

"Some repayment is commonplace after presidential campaign audits, and the repayment ordered here is relatively small," she said. "Payment is due to the Treasury 30 days after the F.E.C. issues its formal ruling, and Biden for President will comply with that."