Mitch McConnell’s campaign flagged by FEC for alleged accounting errors

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's reelection campaign has been flagged by the FEC for suspected accounting irregularities. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite

The Federal Election Commission is asking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reelection campaign to answer a number of questions about suspected accounting errors.

The letter, sent to the McConnell Senate Committee on Monday, comes as one of the most intense battles on Capitol Hill in months is boiling: whether the Senate should allow a vote on President Donald Trump’s yet-unnamed Supreme Court nominee before the next election in less than two months.

Authored by FEC campaign analyst Susan Worthington, the letter said McConnell’s July expenses report found “contributions that appear to exceed” legal limits, as well as contributions "received after the 2020 primary election that are designated for the 2020 primary.

“These contributions may only be accepted to the extent that the committee has net debts outstanding from the 2020 primary election,” Worthington wrote.

Worthington also said McConnell’s report disclosed "one or more contributions that appear to be from a limited liability corporation(s) (LLC).

“Please amend your report to clarify if the LLCs in question are treated as partnerships,” Worthington wrote, otherwise McConnell’s campaign is directed to refund the contributions.

On Friday, after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was announced by the Supreme Court, McConnell committed the Senate to holding a vote on Trump’s nominee. Democrats immediately accused the Kentucky Republican of hypocrisy after McConnell refused to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, eight months before the 2016 election.

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Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer took to the Senate floor Monday to remind McConnell of his own words hours after the February 2016 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. “The American people,” McConnell said then, “should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice.” The vacancy created by Scalia’s death should not be filled until the election of a new president, he added then.

“No amount of sophistry can change what McConnell said then, and it applies even more so now — so much closer we are to an election,” Schumer said Monday.

But McConnell said it is Democrats who are being hypocritical. What Republicans did in 2016 — blocking a nominee of the opposing party — was “precisely what Democrats had indicated they would do themselves” when they were in the majority, McConnell said in his own floor speech Monday. He and other Republicans cited a 1992 speech by then-Sen. Joe Biden — now the Democratic nominee for president — indicating that a vacancy occurring in an election year should not be filled.

Biden, Schumer and other Democrats flip-flopped in 2016, in McConnell’s telling, because they urged the Senate to act on Obama’s nominee.

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“Remember that the Senate has not filled a vacancy arising in an election year when there was divided government since 1888, almost 130 years ago,” McConnell said that year, frequently citing what Republicans called the “Biden Rule.” That “rule” urged the Senate to delay action on a Supreme Court vacancy until after the presidential election.

“President Obama was asking Senate Republicans for an unusual favor that had last been granted nearly 130 years prior. But voters had explicitly elected our majority to check and balance the end of his presidency. So we stuck with the historical norm,” McConnell said Monday as he recounted past fights over the Supreme Court.

By 2019, with Trump in office and a continued GOP Senate majority, McConnell said Senate action on a court opening close to the election would not be an issue. “Yes, we would certainly confirm a new justice if we had that opportunity,” he told talk show host Hugh Hewitt in December. “And we’re going to continue, obviously, to fill the circuit and district court vacancies as they occur right up until the end of next year.”

The main difference? Unlike 2016, when the White House and Senate were controlled by different parties, both are now under Republican control, McConnell said.

“I’d also remind everybody what I just told you, which is the Senate is of the same party as the president of the United States,” McConnell told Fox News in February of this year. “And in that situation we would confirm” a new justice.

Schumer wasn’t buying it. He cited a 2016 op-ed co-written by McConnell imploring that the American people be given the opportunity to “weigh in on whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”

“Now these words don’t apply?” Schumer asked. “It doesn’t pass the smell test in any way. No wonder Leader McConnell was so defensive in his comments.”

Schumer and other Democrats urged McConnell to abide by his own standard. “What’s fair is fair. A senator’s word must count for something," Schumer said.

Vacancies have arisen eight times in the nation’s history during an election year when the White House and Senate were controlled by the same party. Seven of those times the justice was confirmed. The sole exception was in 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson tried to elevate Justice Abe Fortas to become chief justice. The nomination faced a filibuster due in part to ethics problems that later led Fortas to resign from the court.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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