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7/11/2004

Campaign finance loose

Kevin Darst
The Daily Times-Call

Ever wonder how Bob Schaffer killed the two years between his last congressional stint and his current run for the U.S. Senate?

He was a housewife.

At least that’s the occupation listed for Schaffer in an Oct. 15, 2003, campaign-finance report filed by U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Fort Morgan, to whom Schaffer gave $500 on Aug. 8, 2003.

Federal law requires candidates to make their “best effort” to get the name, address, employer and occupation of a donor who gives more than $200 in a calendar year. That means candidates must specifically ask for that information and tell contributors the campaign has to make its best efforts to collect and report it.

Donors, however, are not obligated to provide such information.

Coors Brewing magnate Pete Coors gave Musgrave $900 on Feb. 17 but did not provide his job information. His occupation and employer were listed as “unknown” on Musgrave’s quarterly finance report.

Three days later, Coors made a $10,000 contribution to the Colorado Republican Campaign Committee in which Coors was listed as the CEO of Coors Brewing. In a $2,000 contribution last July to President Bush’s re- election campaign, Coors is listed as an “executive,” although his employer is “self-employed.”

Schaffer’s Senate campaign spokesman said the “housewife” error was made by either the Federal Election Commission or Musgrave campaign staff.

Musgrave’s chief of staff said the campaign receives tens of thousands of contributions and is bound to make occasional reporting mistakes.

Information such as a donor’s occupation and employer aids transparency — and the perception of transparency — in campaign contributions, FEC spokesman George Smaragdis said.

Other than the “best effort” guideline, there’s no FEC standard for disclosure, although the commission can look at a candidate or donor’s reporting records on a case-by-case basis. The commission audited 21 campaigns from the 2002 election cycle and 19 from the 2000 cycle.

Democrat Stan Matsunaka, Musgrave’s opponent in the 2002 race in the 4th CD, was the subject of one of the 21 FEC audits from that year but was not found in violation of election laws.

The FEC automatically audits presidential campaigns committees.

Campaigns can get better disclosure by “setting the tone” with donors, said Sheila Krumholz, research director at the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, Washington, D.C.-based group that monitors money in politics.

“I think they have a lot of control by virtue of the tone they set in their campaign,” Krumholz said. “There’s not an enormous amount of effort required here.”

Musgrave’s chief of staff, Guy Short, disagreed. He said Musgrave’s campaign receives thousands of donations — about 25,000 in the quarterly cycle that ended June 30 — and that the campaign committee spends “tens of thousands of dollars” tracking down disclosure information by sending up to three letters to the donor and, if that doesn’t work, a phone call.

“We do that with everybody,” Short said. “We go above and beyond what the FEC requires.”

Musgrave has the worst “full disclosure” record of her Colorado congressional peers and the 10th-worst among all U.S. House members during the 2004 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The first-term Colorado congresswoman fully disclosed occupation and employer information for 71.5 percent of reportable contributors.

Full disclosure means a donor’s full name, occupation and employer are given on a campaign-finance report. Incomplete disclosure means the occupation is vague, such as “businessperson,” “self-employed” or “executive.” No disclosure means no information about the donor’s occupation or employer was given.

A Daily Times-Call review of campaign-finance documents filed in 2002 and 2003 by Musgrave, 2nd Congressional District Democratic Rep. Mark Udall and 7th Congressional District Republican Rep. Bob Beauprez showed that Musgrave’s reports had no employer or occupation information for 573 of the 1,417 reportable donations she received from individuals, a 40.4 percent nondisclosure rate.

Beauprez did not have employer or occupation information for 59 of the 2,058 reportable donations he got from individuals, a 2.9 percent nondisclosure rate.

Udall did not have employer or occupation information for 129 of the 1,233 reportable donations he got from individuals, a 10.5 percent nondisclosure rate.

However, both Beauprez and Udall listed “volunteer,” “self” and “retired” as occupations or employers far more than Musgrave’s reports did.

Bush’s re- election campaign, which had pulled in $215 million as of June 1, had a 93.4 percent full disclosure rate for its $156.4 million in reportable individual donations, according to the CRP.

“(Bush’s) full disclosure rate sets the standard for what can be done in the face of such a large donor list,” Krumholz said.

During the 2000 election cycle, congressional members fully disclosed names and occupations of their donors about 91 percent of the time, according to the CRP.

“We haven’t had a problem with people withholding that information,” said Jennifer Rokala, Udall’s campaign manager. “People understand that information is required by the (Federal Election Commission). I would say that most people give us that information the first time.”

Udall’s campaign-finance records from the 2002 and 2004 election cycles include contributions from a number of “community activists” or “community volunteers.”

During his unsuccessful U.S. Senate run two years ago, Democratic candidate Tom Strickland’s campaign received dozens of contributions from donors listed on finance reports as “community volunteer.” Many of those were spouses or family of other Strickland donors.

The “community volunteer” label helped mask the source of the contribution, as do other titles such as “self-employed” or “retired,” especially if those titles are false, Krumholz said.

“No (campaign-finance watchdog) company looks at accuracy, but, anecdotally, I can tell you that (listing false occupations) happens quite a bit,” Krumholz said. “There’s a lot of misinformation.”

Donors withholding their professions is a less concerning problem than campaigns that assign vague, blanket occupations to donors simply to comply with disclosure laws, Krumholz said.

“The greater concern is when a campaign doesn’t have the information, doesn’t want to get slammed and plugs that into the blanks,” she said.

Musgrave’s chief of staff said the congresswoman’s campaign committee never fills in that information without getting it first-hand from the donor.

Coors is not the only high-profile donor to withhold his job. A campaign-finance statement from President George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign included a donation from the elder Bush’s own campaign chairman, Robert Mosbacher, which listed Mosbacher’s occupation and employer as unknown.

Kevin Darst can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 405, or by e-mail at kdarst@times-call.com.