Finance complaint filed in Mississippi US Senate campaign

State
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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – A nonpartisan group says in a complaint to the Federal Election Commission that a super PAC has been improperly organizing and funding activities for a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Mississippi.

The Washington-based Campaign Legal Center filed the complaint Monday against the Remember Mississippi super PAC and Chris McDaniel’s campaign fund. It asks the FEC to investigate.

Remember Mississippi raised nearly $1.1 million last year, with $500,000 coming from Richard Uihlein of Illinois, a packaging company executive who has donated to anti-union causes, and $500,000 from billionaire investor Robert Mercer of New York.

The super PAC takes its name from the slogan McDaniel supporters adopted after McDaniel, a tea-party backed state lawmaker, lost a bitter 2014 Republican primary to longtime U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, who was supported by the political establishment.

McDaniel – who frequently criticizes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky – said the campaign finance complaint is “frivolous” and “just another establishment dirty trick.”

“The complaint is completely bogus, just more fake news from the D.C. swamp,” McDaniel in a text message said after reading it.

The complaint says Remember Mississippi violated its certification as a super PAC by organizing and funding three campaign events that constituted “unreported and excessive in-kind contributions” to McDaniel. It said the events were fish fries in March 9 in Tupelo and March 10 Ellisville and a gathering March 11 at a church in Gulfport, all with McDaniel’s name and image on the invitations. It also says that at all three events, McDaniel appeared before a backdrop that had “McDaniel U.S. Senate 2018” in large letters and “Remember Mississippi” in smaller text.

At the March 10 event, a representative of Remember Mississippi introduced McDaniel, solicited contributions for McDaniel’s campaign and asked people to get their friends, co-workers and families to support McDaniel, the complaint says.

“I’m confident there was no coordination,” McDaniel told The Associated Press during a brief interview at the state Capitol. “All I did – they told me a date and I showed up.”

McDaniel announced Feb. 28 that he would challenge Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, in this year’s party primary. Cochran, 80, announced days later that he is retiring April 1 because of poor health, and McDaniel said March 12 that he is switching to run in a special election for Cochran’s seat. McDaniel also asked Republican Gov. Phil Bryant to appoint him to temporarily succeed Cochran until the special election is held – an overture the governor swiftly rejected.

Bryant last week appointed Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith to fill the Senate seat. In the Nov. 6 special election, she will face McDaniel and at least one other candidate, Democrat Mike Espy, who was President Bill Clinton’s first secretary of agriculture. Special election candidates run without party labels, and a runoff, if needed, would be Nov. 27. The winner will fill the rest of the term, which expires in January 2021.

The McDaniel campaign released the following statement about the complaint:

“The complaint is completely bogus,” McDaniel said. “When your candidate is in third place and President Trump opposes your candidate, you file an FEC complaint. It’s just another establishment dirty trick.”

Senator McDaniel attended several events sponsored by Remember Mississippi with legal guidance and was allowable by federal election law.

McDaniel stated that a decade after the creation of Super PAC’s, you would think Campaign Legal would know what the law is.

Generally speaking, campaigns and Super PAC’s are not allowed to coordinate messaging or resources. The McDaniel campaign says neither has occurred, and that will be the finding of the FEC.

McDaniel went on to say that filing frivolous FEC complaints is a campaign tactic that should be illegal. Nevertheless, we are fully confident that no wrongdoing will be found on the part of the McDaniel campaign.

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