Signs of Corruption – Arizona’s 8th District

The Debbie Lesko FEC investigation explained

People are sick and tired of corruption, real and perceived, in Washington and local politics.

Lesko Background

Debbie Lesko is a politician running for congress from Arizona’s 8th district in a special election to replace Trent Franks. Her campaign is currently under investigation by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for an allegedly illegal money transfer.

Most voters aren’t privy to the nuances of election finance laws, and this author has successfully filed campaign finance violation complaints resulting in fines. So, this article will attempt to explain the complaint against Lesko’s campaign so voters can be more informed about the investigation.

Debbie Lesko Anti Birth Control BillLesko was previously an Arizona state legislator perhaps best known for her controversial 2012 anti birth control bill.

Debbie had $50,000 left over in her “Re-elect Debbie Lesko for Senate” state campaign fund from a previous campaign. Federal laws prohibit money from state level campaigns to be transferred to federal campaigns in order to protect the donors of those funds.

A proper way a candidate can transfer money from a state to a federal campaign is to first refund the donations back to the donors, then ask them to re-donate the funds back the federal campaign. In doing so, the candidate ethically offers donors protection and a choice on whether or not their money should be used for the federal campaign.

The Lesko campaign chose another path.

Here’s The Money No Strings Attached (wink wink, nudge nudge)

Debbie walks out on School District questions

Lesko took the leftover $50,000 and gave the money to a newly formed Political Action Committee (PAC) named “Conservative Leadership for America” (CLA), according to a complaint filed to the Federal Election Commission by the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan Washington-D.C.-based group that supports enforcement of campaign finance laws.

Click here for the original complaint document.

That PAC was originally a state PAC formed in 2014 but was reclassified as a federal PAC in January 2018. The treasurer of that PAC then became the treasurer for Lesko’s campaign.

The machinations are confusing, perhaps deliberately so, but are we seeing a pattern forming?

Eight days later, Lesko donated $50,000 to this new “CLA” PAC from her old state campaign. It’s noteworthy this PAC had no other donations other than the $50,000 given by Lesko.

The PAC then used that $50,000 to fund campaign expenses for Lesko’s federal campaign, including the purchasing of political signs. Then, in a required filing to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC),  the “CLA” PAC tried to hide the fact the sole source of their funding was Lesko. Only when confronted by a reporter did they come clean about where the money came from. Phil Lovas, a republican who was running against Lesko in the congressional primary, called the money transfer “illegal money laundering” and reported the violation to the FEC.

Rules of Law / Rules of Ethics

At issue here is the fact that political campaigns and PACs are required by law to be independent of each other with no coordination or collusion between them.

Lesko, for her part, says she did nothing illegal. She claims she did not know that the $50,000 given to the PAC would be spent on her campaign. This is difficult to believe for a number of reasons:

  1. The previous treasurer of the PAC is now Lesko’s campaign treasurer.
  2. The money transfer to the PAC happened only 8 days after the PAC was reclassified as a federal PAC. Even though Lesko could have donated to any number of conservative PACs, she donated only to this one.
  3. The PAC received no other donations other than from Lesko’s campaign.
  4. The PAC spent the money received from Lesko only on Lesko’s campaign and no other conservative issues.
  5. The PAC initially tried to hide the fact that the money came from Lesko’s campaign.

What Happens Now?

The FEC is still looking into the legality of this issue, but the optics here are horrible for Lesko. How can a politician be so unscrupulous as to disenfranchise her own donors, the people who supported her, and not give them a choice on whether or not they would like their donations to be used for her federal campaign? If this is how Lesko treats her own donors, how is she going to treat her other constituents who may not support her as actively?

Lesko has campaign signs all over the west valley. People should remind themselves when they see these signs of the corruption that helped pay for them.

If we want to change the corruption in Washington, we need to stop voting for people who embrace it and are always looking for a chink in the armor of regulations to slip an unethical move through.

What use is “draining the swamp” if we are going to elect back in the same type of people that we drained out?