Montana Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale used accounting maneuvers to make it possible for campaign donors to give him more money this year than is allowed in the 2018 election cycle, according to a story run by The Daily Beast on Thursday.
The limit an individual can give a candidate for U.S. Senate during this election cycle is $5,400. But nine donors gave Rosendale more than that this year. That was possible because the donors put their money toward debt from Rosendale's previous 2014 run for Montana's lone U.S. House seat.
Money from donors directed toward the 2014 debt was used to pay off $32,831 in loans Rosendale made to his campaign for U.S. House, the Daily Beast originally reported. Then Rosendale, the day after he was paid back for the 2014 loan, lent his current U.S. Senate campaign the same amount of money, according to records from the Federal Elections Commission.
Rosendale is using the same campaign committee now as when he ran for House. FEC documents from 2017 show that Rosendale was still owed $236,693 from loans he made to his 2014 campaign.
The Daily Beast reported Rosendale began soliciting in April and May from his 2018 U.S. Senate campaign for donations to pay down the earlier U.S. House campaign’s debt, citing a memo it obtained from Rosendale’s Senate campaign.
The memo included lines where donors could direct their money toward either the 2014 primary race debt reduction or the 2018 primary debt or 2018 general election. A note below said “in addition to making contributions to Roesndale’s 2018 primary and general elections, contributors that did not max out ($2,600) to the 2014 primary may contribute to debt retirement.
None of the donors was from Montana.
Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center, said Thursday afternoon the move by Rosendale “seems like a potentially legal scheme to allow a handful of wealthy donors to give up to $8,000 each to support Rosendale’s campaign, when the limit for everyone else is $5,400.”
Candidates are allowed to lend their campaigns money and raise funds after the election to pay back loans. What’s unique about Rosendale’s situation is the fact that the next day, the candidate loaned his current campaign the exact amount of money his past campaign had just paid him back, “which looks a lot like a money-laundering scheme,” Fischer said.
If donors were told their contributions for the 2014 debt were intended to be earmarked for the 2018 campaign, Fischer said that would equate to exceeding 2018 limits. There’s no evidence of Rosendale’s campaign is doing that, Fischer said.
Fischer said this type of accounting move is something he hasn’t seen before and would only be accessible to a small number of candidates with enough personal wealth to float a loan for nearly four years.
A spokesman for Rosendale did not return a message seeking comment.
Montana Democrats on Thursday criticized Rosendale's tactics, as did the campaign of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, the Democrat Rosendale is looking to unseat.
Tester press secretary Luke Jackson called the accounting maneuver "cooking the books to make sure his wealthy donors can work around campaign contribution limits." Jackson also pointed to campaign finance reform efforts that have been sponsored by Tester.
"We need folks like Jon Tester who will fight for more transparency in campaign finance, not opportunists like Matt Rosendale who operate in darkness. It's clear from his actions Rosendale is out for himself and can't be trusted."