Burgess Owens, the GOP nominee in Utah’s 4th Congressional District, appears to be at the center of a campaign finance controversy with a week to go until Election Day.
A review of Owens' campaign finance filing confirms multiple donations over the legal limit stretching as far back as July 1 of this year. Among the prominent Utahns who have donated more than the legal limit include Greg Miller and Susan Bramble, spouse of a well-known state lawmaker.
All of the donations in question have a notation on the report that the amounts are not permitted and that the campaign is waiting for written directions from the donors about what to do with the cash.
Federal Election Commission rules allow donors to reallocate excessive amounts to another member of the household, or to another election, so long as that person is not also over the limit. The other option is a refund.
“With 50,000 donors donating online over the course [of the campaign], there’s going to be some that donate over and you either reattribute it, you send out reattribution letters and if not you refund it. That’s why the FEC has those processes in place; the candidates can’t control that,” said Owens campaign spokesperson Jesse Ranney in an email statement.
It’s not clear from campaign filings whether the campaign has indeed remedied the disputed donations. If they do, it will likely be detailed in a supplemental report.
While the issue is sorted out, Owens could be facing a cash crunch in the final days of the contest as FEC rules say campaigns have to hold on to these donations until they are either reallocated or refunded. Owens had about $325,000 on hand according to his pre-general election filing, which may include the money at the center of the controversy.
The McAdams campaign pounced on the news in an email statement, calling for the Owens camp to divest itself of the campaign cash.
“It’s clear he has taken illegal donations that he cannot spend. He should come clean and refund all the money he is holding illegally," said campaign manager Andrew Roberts.
Even if Owens is able to fix the issue, it has not been done in a timely manner. FEC rules give campaigns 60 days for the reallocation or a refund. Many of the donations that are under scrutiny are outside of that window. The most likely punishment for that transgression is a fine.
Individual donors are limited to $2,800 for each election cycle. Since Owens had to win the GOP nomination in a primary election, a single person could give $2,800 for the primary, then another $2,800 for the general election.
The most recent survey of the contest gave Owens a one-point lead over McAdams, but that was well within the margin of error, meaning the race is essentially tied.