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Feds dismiss campaign finance complaint against Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert

It’s increasingly common for the commission to deadlock on enforcement cases
GOP businesswoman Lauren Boebert, running for Congress in Colorado’s 3rd District, stopped by her campaign headquarters, and Shooter’s, the restaurant she owns in Rifle, on Aug. 20, 2020. She is joined by campaign volunteers. (Hart Van Denburg/CPR News file)

The Federal Election Commission dismissed a complaint against Colorado GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert about her 2020 mileage reimbursement after the commissioners deadlocked, 3-3, on whether to investigate further.

All three Republican commissioners voted against investigating further, while the two Democrats and one independent commissioner voted in support of the complaint. It takes four votes for the commission to act. Eventually, the independent commissioner sided with Republicans in a decision to dismiss the matter.

While the FEC’s Office of General Counsel, which made recommendations to commissioners before the votes, did not find any evidence that Boebert converted campaign funds to personal use, as the complaint had alleged, it did note that the “round figure of 32,000 miles driven for campaign-related purposes suggests that the assessment is a general estimate rather than one found on the kind of contemporaneous log contemplated in the Commission’s regulations.”

The OGC said the 32,000 number “raises questions regarding whether Boebert’s assessment of her campaign-related travel involved the degree of specificity the Commission’s recording regulations require.”

The mileage number could be an underestimate or an overestimate.

“What we saw in the vote was the Democrats wanted to get to the bottom of this and see whether or not it was an overestimate, because if it was, then in that case there would have been a law broken. It would have been pocketing campaign cash for personal gain,” said Michael Clauw with the Campaign for Accountability, the nonprofit campaign finance organization that filed the complaint.

He is disappointed with the decision to dismiss “even though there was further investigation that could be done.”

But the OGC said: “We do not believe it is worth the use of the Commission’s limited resources to investigate to determine the adequacy of the Boebert Committee’s records.”

The recommendation was to use “prosecutorial discretion,” which Clauw said, “gave Republicans a rationale to block it.”

CPR News asked Boebert’s campaign for comment and has not received a reply.

The Campaign for Accountability filed the complaint after Boebert’s 2020 campaign for Congress paid her $22,259 in mileage reimbursements. Her campaign later amended that filing, saying that not all the money was for mileage, and instead, it also included hotels and Uber rides.

It’s increasingly common for the commission to deadlock on enforcement cases, said Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer with Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg in Washington, D.C.

But he was surprised that the commission did not investigate the record-keeping decision further.

FEC regulations require all political committees to have records to support the filings they make with the commission, including mileage for when a personal vehicle is used for personal and campaign use. Lawyers for Boebert did not submit any log for the 32,000 miles.

“I’m surprised they got three votes not to do an investigation because it’s hard to see how that complies with the commission’s record-keeping and reporting requirements,” Kappel said.

He noted the commission, which was shut down for most of 2020, has a huge backlog to go through and some commissioners might have figured investigating the Boebert complaint further would take too much work for staff members.

To read more stories from Colorado Public Radio, visit www.cpr.org.