Updated November 10, 2023 - 7:50 pm
An organization has filed a complaint against U.S. Senate candidate Sam Brown, alleging he misused a PAC that was marketed to help elect Republicans to Congress to instead retire his old campaign debt from his failed 2022 run.
Brown’s campaign is calling the claims “nonsense.”
End Citizens United, a group dedicated to reforming campaign finance laws and supporting Democratic candidates, filed the complaint against Brown last month with the Federal Election Commission, accusing Brown of violating the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.
“Sam Brown’s scheme represents a new frontier of misleading donors and taking advantage of higher contribution limits for his own self benefit,” said Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United in a statement.
Brown’s campaign declined to comment further on the claims addressed in the complaint.
“This is an obvious political smear from a far-left organization aligned with Jacky Rosen, Kamala Harris, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” said campaign manager Faith Jones in a statement to the Review-Journal. “Nevada voters are right to dismiss D.C. political stunts like these as complete nonsense.”
Actions could set ‘dangerous precedent’
After Brown lost the 2022 Senate primary to former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, his campaign incurred more than $344,000 in debt, according to campaign finance data. Brown created a new PAC called Duty First, which he said would help elect Republicans and defeat far-left Democrats.
Brown then transferred his old campaign debt to that new PAC, rather than retiring debt through his existing campaign committee. The complaint cited a CNN report, which found that less than 2 percent of the Duty First funds went toward candidates.
End Citizens United alleges the PAC raised the funds without disclosing it would go toward debt retirement, which the group claims is an FEC violation.
The complaint also alleges a loophole was created by allowing the PAC to assume the campaign debt and solicit campaign donors in excess of limits. Brown’s actions could set a dangerous precedent increasing the power of ultra wealthy donors, Muller said.
Kenneth Miller, an assistant professor of political science at UNLV whose research focuses on political parties and campaign finance, said it would be worthwhile to hear the FEC respond to the inquiry about circumventing individual contribution limits, but it is harder to claim there is deceptive advertising.
If those people who donated to the PAC learned the money did not go to a new candidate for Senate but instead to pay down debt for a candidate who is running again, he doesn’t know how much they would care, Miller said.
“It’s all money that’s going to support a Republican and to support a conservative, so you know, there’s a good chance a lot of donors would be OK with that,” he said.
FEC response to inquiries has decreased
The donation page for Duty First reads “Elect Conservatives in Nevada.”
It is common for campaigns to have debt, and candidates often take that debt from their last campaign and then assume it on their new campaign, Miller said.
Miller isn’t sure how common it is to move the debt over to a PAC, but he does not know of specific FEC rules or statutes that prevent them from doing so.
“This is one of those things of, no one told him he couldn’t do it,” Miller said.
“Frankly, it’s a very effective strategy in campaign finance at the federal level, to do something and ask for forgiveness later because the FEC is paralyzed,” he said, adding that the FEC — made up of three Democrats and three Republicans — is at a deadlock and their rate of responding to inquiries has decreased in the last decade.
“There’s a lot of things on their table already that have been, they haven’t issued opinions on, so this one is going onto a very large pile,” Miller said.