A law-and-order California GOP congressional campaign is violating federal law

  • Buzz Patterson’s California congressional campaign hasn’t filed mandatory federal campaign finance disclosures since late 2019. His campaign tells Insider that ‘technological difficulties’ are the culprit.
  • It’s rare for a competitive congressional campaign to repeatedly miss these legally mandated filings. Patterson’s campaign could face a Federal Election Commission audit and significant fines.
  • How fast will Patterson file his campaign disclosures? As ‘soon as we can,’ he said.
  • Patterson, a Republican and decorated Air Force veteran, is challenging Democratic Rep. Ami Bera in California’s 7th congressional district.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Buzz Patterson has a fighting chance of becoming one of California’s newest congressional lawmakers.

But as the Sacramento-area Republican battles four-term Democratic Rep. Ami Bera, Patterson’s campaign committee is breaking federal law.

Patterson’s committee has failed to file four mandatory disclosures detailing how much money it’s raised and spent, as well as the identities of those funding and earning money from it, an Insider review of Federal Election Commission records indicates.

The missed filings, which span nearly a year, could trigger a costly FEC audit and hefty civil fine. The Department of Justice — responsible for prosecuting “knowing and willful” criminal violations of federal campaign laws — could also investigate, although it rarely pursues cases that strictly involve disclosure.

Patterson, who last week declared there “cannot be a Democratic Republic without law and order,” told Insider that he’s aware of his campaign’s screw-ups. He vowed to fix the situation.

“The onus is on my campaign and our inability to file on time,” Patterson said. “It was never our intention to be here, but we are and we know we must fix it. As soon as we can.”

Patterson campaign treasurer Lou Baglietto said a “series of technological difficulties” prevented the campaign from properly submitting its financial disclosures through the FEC’s internet-based document filing system. 

Baglietto said he didn’t realize that the FEC wasn’t receiving the campaign’s disclosures and recently discovered FEC error emails in his spam folder. He now plans to this week send the FEC a compact disc containing the campaign finances from late 2019 to the present.

“It’s my fault,” Baglietto said. “I thought everything was OK.”

Asked to estimate the Patterson campaign’s current finances, Baglietto told Insider that the campaign has raised about $220,000 and spent about $190,000 during the campaign. It currently has $30,000 in available cash, he said.

Earlier this year, one of Patterson’s campaign consultants sued the campaign for breach of contract, accusing it of not paying bills. Patterson previously called the lawsuit “frivolous,” the Orange County Register reported in May. The Patterson campaign’s yet-to-be-filed FEC documents would ostensibly reveal more details about this situation.

The Bera campaign entered July with nearly $1.9 million in reserve and about $273,000 in debt, according to its latest financial statement.

Potential ‘enforcement action’

FEC spokesperson Judith Ingram declined to discuss specifics of Patterson’s situation, but noted that “political committees are required to submit filings on time and in full in order to provide the transparency that allows voters to make informed decisions.”

In a statement to Insider, Bera campaign spokesperson Travis Horne said Patterson “not only has a legal obligation to file his campaign finance reports, but he also has an obligation to the voters of California’s 7th Congressional District who deserve full transparency. Not doing so would be a disservice to the voters.”

The FEC has fined many political committees for various misdeeds, such as accounting foul-ups and late filings. 

Among the FEC’s more notable actions: a $375,000 fine for President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and a $390,000 fine for Right to Rise, a super PAC supporting Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential effort.

But it’s rare for a competitive congressional campaign committee to repeatedly fail to file legally mandated financial disclosures.

If any political committee is having trouble filing its disclosures, they should immediately contact the FEC, said Lee Goodman, a partner at law firm Wiley Rein who served on the FEC from 2013 to 2017, including one year as agency chairman.

“Most committees find very helpful staff at the FEC,” Goodman said. “Problems are usually temporary and solved very quickly with the assistance of the FEC, where the goal is compliance.”

Patterson demonstrated awareness of federal campaign finance filing deadlines several times this year, noting them as part of fundraising pitches to supporters. 

 

“We have until midnight tonight to reach our fundraising goals and our quarterly FEC reporting. We’re SO close!” he wrote on June 30.

“The FEC’s next quarterly reporting period ends this Tuesday night. We have to show our fundraising progress,” he wrote on March 28. 

The FEC has also sent the Patterson campaign four letters since February demanding that it file its disclosures and warning of “civil money penalties, an audit or legal enforcement action” if it didn’t. 

FEC Chamber 2018

The Federal Election Commission no longer has enough Senate-confirmed commissioners to conduct regular business headed into the 2020 election.

Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call


Slow justice?

California’s 7th District includes large portions of Sacramento County east and south of the state’s capital city. After three close victories in 2012, 2014, and 2016, Bera won his 2018 race by 10 percentage points, and the district today leans Democratic.

Nevertheless, Patterson — a decorated former fighter pilot who also served as a senior military aide to President Bill Clinton — said he feels “really good” about his chances of winning.

“People in California 7, regardless of political affiliation, are ready for a change. A fresh approach,” he said.

One thing Patterson’s campaign probably won’t win, regardless of the election’s outcome: swift justice from the FEC.

Why? Because the six-seat, bipartisan FEC only has three commissioners — one short of the minimum of four commissioners needed to complete investigations, approve audits or otherwise enforce federal campaign finance laws. 

Save for a few weeks in June and July when the FEC briefly fielded four commissioners, the agency has lacked a sufficient number of commissioners since September 2019 amid an election measured in the billions of dollars.

When the FEC finally regains a quorum — the US Senate has not yet scheduled a confirmation hearing for conservative attorney Allen Dickerson, who President Donald Trump nominated in June — the agency will face a backlog of dozens, if not hundreds of cases. 

It therefore could be months, even years, before it rules on Patterson’s campaign.

Patterson said his campaign is prepared to face the consequences of not filing its disclosures. “I’m hoping they will be merciful,” added Baglietto, the treasurer.

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