The Nevada Democratic Party on Tuesday filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, accusing Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sue Lowden of accepting an illegal donation of a luxury motor home to travel the state.
The Lowden campaign countered it broke no campaign finance laws because the 2001 RV wasn't donated but is being leased from owner Carl Giudici at "fair market value" and will be returned.
Both Giudici and Lowden are listed on the vehicle title and registration with the Department of Motor Vehicles, which the Democratic Party said shows the expensive RV was given to her. The Lowden campaign, however, has said both names had to be listed in order to obtain insurance.
"Sue Lowden owns this bus," said Bradley Schrager, an attorney for the Nevada State Democratic Party. "Nevada law specifically states that an owner of a motor vehicle is a person who holds the legal title of a vehicle and whose name appears on the certificate of title. The 'lease' with Mr. Giudici is irrelevant and, frankly, pointless. She is 'leasing' a vehicle she already owns."
Lowden campaign manager Robert Uithoven accused the Democratic Party and incumbent U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of trying to divert voters' attention in the days before the June 8 primary.
"Harry Reid and his cronies can spend as much time as they would like filing FEC complaints against Republican candidates seeking to defeat him in November," Uithoven said. "Nevada voters will be filing their own complaints against Harry Reid at the ballot box this November when they throw him out of office."
The dispute over whether Lowden exceeded federal campaign donation limits erupted days before early voting begins Saturday for the primary.
Lowden is the GOP front-runner in a closely fought contest with Sharron Angle and Danny Tarkanian. They are leading a dozen Republicans seeking the GOP nomination and the right to face Reid in the fall general election.
Tarkanian's campaign initially accused Lowden of exceeding campaign contribution limits after she said on a TV program in Reno that a supporter donated the RV to her.
But the Lowden campaign said the 2001 Monaco was leased Jan. 12 from the owner and provided the lease as proof. But information about how much Lowden is paying was redacted. The campaign would only say that the amount was "fair market value."
Lowden said Tuesday she should have been clearer about the issue.
"The owners of the bus did donate to me their max and I should have said they donated and then we leased from there," Lowden said. "I think it's flattering that Danny and the Democrats are watching every little thing and that they care so much about everything I do."
A similar new luxury RV could be leased for as low as $50 a day in winter and up to several hundred dollars a day in summer, according to Las Vegas rental places.
The lease was signed by Giudici and Uithoven.
Giudici and his wife, Elsie, also donated "in-kind" contributions for the RV's use that were under the $2,400-per-person limit for the primary campaign -- $2,200 from him and $2,360 from her.
In addition, the Lowden campaign spent more than $11,000 to fix the RV, which could be worth from $60,000 to $100,000.
Craig Holman, a campaign finance expert who isn't aligned with either party or campaign, said the arrangement for using the RV appears suspicious because of the initial in-kind contributions and because of the unusual leasing agreement in which Lowden is also listed on the motor home title.
"If this is a legitimate leasing agreement and the candidate is paying fair market value, then this is not a violation of campaign finance laws," said Holman of Public Citizen in Washington.
"It is peculiar that the owner would make an in-kind contribution before a leasing arrangement. So I can see how the Democrats would be suspicious. And if the campaign is being charged less than fair market value, that would be violation."
Once it is filed, the FEC complaint could take months to be resolved, perhaps after the November election.
If federal authorities determine Lowden violated campaign donation limits, she could face a felony charge punishable with up to five years in jail and up to $1 million in fines, the Democratic Party said.
Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.