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SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Mia Love has informed the Federal Election Commission that she will return or redesignate hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds that she raised for a primary election that didn't happen.
The commission sent a letter to the Love campaign in August questioning funds she had raised for a primary election. Candidates are not allowed to raise such funds if they don't have a primary, according to the FEC.
The Love campaign told the FEC it would redesignate contributions received after April 21 — the date of the Utah Republican Party convention and date it said it knew for certain there would not be a primary — and before the June 26 primary election.
In total, the campaign will redesignate about $370,000 and "may" refund less than $10,000, according to campaign spokeswoman Sasha Clark.
To redesignate a contribution for another election, the campaign must obtain written authorization from the donor and ensure it does not exceed federal contribution limits.
Clark said the FEC has not said the Love campaign broke any laws but requested a response for information as to why funds were attributed to the convention and the primary election in her July campaign finance report.
Love's opponent, Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, has scheduled an afternoon news conference to respond to what his campaign calls Love's "campaign finance law violation."
"Utah voters expect and deserve a campaign free from Washington, D.C.-like corruption and lawlessness. Federal campaign limits are straightforward and are the essential cornerstone of our campaign finance system. They exist to prevent corruption. What good are rules, if my opponent chooses not to follow them?” McAdams said in a statement.
McAdams campaign contends Love knew in March she would not have a primary opponent and that she should return all of the contributions.
In Utah, candidates may secure a spot in the primary election at a political party convention, gathering a requisite number of signatures or both.
Love declared her intent to collect signatures in January and paid a firm $36,000 to circulate her petitions. She later decided not to file the petition signatures that were gathered and seek the nomination at the state GOP convention, according to the letter her campaign finance lawyers sent the FEC last week.
Running unopposed, the two-term congresswoman easily won the nomination with enough votes to bypass the primary and go straight to the general election ballot.
While no challenger filed prior to the March 15 deadline to be a candidate for nomination at the state party convention, a primary election candidate could have filed petition signatures up until April 7, two weeks before the date of the convention, the letter says.
Petitions are not certified until the day before the convention, meaning that until April 20, it was not known with certainty whether any challenger had qualified for the primary election ballot, according to the letter.
Similarly, the letter says, it was not known until the day of the state party convention that there would be no primary election at all.
But the McAdams campaign says Love knew as of March 15 — the candidate filing deadline — that she wouldn't have an opponent. She was the only Republican to declare candidacy in the 4th District.
"Everything after that day needs to be returned," said McAdams campaign spokesman Andrew Roberts. He called Love's explanation in the letter a "hypothetical argument that's not steeped in reality."
"Her argument here on its face is meant to distract and to confuse," he said.
Love’s campaign finance lawyers say in the letter that the situation is no different than the one Rep. Mike Lee, R-Utah, was in two years ago. Lee also raised money for a primary election that was not held because no other GOP candidates qualified for the ballot.
The FEC's general counsel's office recommended that Lee refund $453,000 to contributors, but the FEC commissioners allowed him to keep the money because of the "unique" facts in the case.
The commission determined that the Lee campaign had no choice but to prepare for both the primary election and the party convention at the same time because of the short time frame between the convention and the election.