FEC says Chaffetz may have broken the law in money transfer; Chaffetz’s lawyer says it was a paperwork error

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune Rep. Jason Chaffetz talks with news media during Republican Party Election Night Victory Party at Rice-Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

Washington • Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz was attempting to close out his congressional campaign account when he decided to transfer the remaining $267,000 to a political action committee he runs.

The problem: He can’t do that — at least not the way he did.

The Federal Election Commission has warned the Chaffetz-run Beehive PAC in a letter that federal law limits money transfers between a campaign account and a leadership PAC to $5,000 in a calendar year, and the FEC wants an answer about why the money was moved.

This letter is a polite way of the FEC saying that Jason Chaffetz has very much violated the law,” says Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center.

But a lawyer working for Chaffetz says the matter was a “mere paperwork error.”

Basically what happened here is the treasurer forgot to check a box on one of the forms,” says Matt Sanderson, a federal election law attorney in Washington.

Sanderson says that when an officeholder is no longer running for office, federal law allows that committee to convert over to what is called a nonconnected committee and then funds can be transferred without limit. The treasurer will correct the form and resubmit to the FEC, Sanderson says.

Chaffetz, who left Congress last year to take a gig as a Fox News contributor, likely won’t face any penalties if he makes the proper paperwork changes.

Although the Commission may take further legal action regarding the acceptance of an excessive contribution(s), prompt action by your committee to seek reattribution, transfer-out or refund the excessive amount will be taken into consideration,” an FEC analyst wrote to the Beehive PAC last week.

Federal law governs the use of Chaffetz’s leftover campaign funds. He can use the money to donate to federal, state or local candidates, to charity, or, if he decides to run for a state office, he can pour that money into that campaign. Chaffetz hasn’t ruled out running for Utah governor in 2020.

Fischer says it seems clear there was some mix-up because the campaign and the PAC both noted the money in filings with the FEC.

I have to assume this is an honest mistake,” Fischer says. “The transfer was reported, there was no effort to disguise it.”