Complaints fly in Senate race

WASHINGTON -- The fax machine at the Federal Election Commission was humming Tuesday as campaign finance complaints were flying in from the U.S. Senate race in Nevada.

Leaving no stone unturned in its bid to soften Republican Senate challenger Sue Lowden, the Nevada Democratic Party filed a complaint with the FEC over Lowden's spending in the final days of the GOP primary race.

Meanwhile, Lowden complained to the federal agency about GOP rival Sharron Angle's acceptance of a ride on a corporate-registered plane in March and whether she properly reimbursed the owner.

The complaints came as the Republican primary campaign in the Senate race entered its final week. Lowden and Angle are running about even, according to the most recent public polling, with a third candidate, Danny Tarkanian, a short distance behind them.

It was not clear whether the complaints would prompt a federal response in time to influence the balloting. The FEC enforces campaign finance laws but has been criticized as slow-moving and relatively toothless.

Mark Peplowski, a political science professor at the College of Southern Nevada, said it could be August or later before the complaints are taken up by agency investigators who are being inundated with scores of similar complaints from races around the country.

If either Lowden or Angle survive the primary, it could serve as a distraction during the fall campaign, Peplowski said. The Republican primary winner will take on the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.

In the complaint against Lowden, the Nevada Democratic Party said her campaign skirted federal campaign finance law by spending donations that were earmarked for use only if she survives the primary and goes on to the general election campaign.

Lowden's campaign manager, Robert Uithoven, acknowledged last week that $18,000 earmarked for the general election has been spent on the primary, attributing that to accounting errors. He said the campaign was alerting the FEC and making the necessary corrections.

Uithoven said the funds amounted to "half of 1 percent" of the $3.2 million that Lowden has collected during the race.

Meanwhile, Angle's rides from Reno to and from the Tea Party's Showdown in Searchlight in a single-engine Piper Cherokee on March 27 and 28 sparked the complaint by Lowden. The plane was owned by a supporter who registered it under a corporate name, DLR Ventures LLC.

While the charter rate for such a flight would be $7,000, Angle paid $67.54 for a partial share of fuel and parking. Questioned about the flight last week by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, her spokesman said the campaign consulted its attorneys and decided to pay a larger amount but declined to say how much.

"Sharron pays for her own trips, and so there was no free ride," Jerry Stacy, spokesman for Angle's campaign, said Friday.

The Lowden camp said that the plane ride amounted to an illegal corporate contribution and that even if it were not a corporate plane, Angle should have paid a fair market fare for the ride and reported it.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.