FEC to Sestak: Declare Candidacy, or Disavow

Joe Sestak

Joe Sestak

The Federal Election Commission says Joe Sestak has passed the threshold of exploring a run for Senate in 2016 and must declare himself a candidate – or disavow his bid.

In a letter to Sestak’s campaign committee, the FEC notes that his fundraising and spending activity exceeded $5,000 and thus he meets the criteria of an active candidate.

“You have thirty-five (35) days from receipt of this notification to disavow these activities,” the letter states, or “you should file a Statement of Candidacy.”

The deadline for Sestak’s response is August 30.

Sestak, a former Admiral and former Congressman, ran for Senate in 2010 and lost to Pat Toomey. In May, he announced that he was exploring a U.S. Senate rematch with Toomey in 2016.

The letter is a pro forma notice by the FEC and does not constitute a censure. Most commonly such letters are sent to incumbent members of Congress who begin re-election fundraising without filing an official declaration of candidacy, several campaign finance professionals told PoliticsPA.

A Sestak spokesman said his campaign has been in regular contact with the FEC since the beginning of the year as an effort to stay on the appropriate side of its often murky rules.

The spokesman said the FEC told Sestak’s campaign they would receive the letter as a matter of course and that the campaign already has instructions from the FEC on how to resolve the issue.

The FEC does not comment on specific notices.

The key question could be whether or not Sestak actually created a new exploratory committee distinct from his 2010 Senate campaign committee.

Sestak’s spokesman said he did, around the beginning of the year. Previous years’ filings were submitted by ‘Sestak for Senate,’ while 2013 filings were submitted by ‘Friends of Joe Sestak.’

Sestak raised more than $670,000 in the first half of 2013; all of it went to ‘Friends of Joe Sestak’.

But Sestak’s campaign use identical FEC ID numbers when it filed paperwork for the two committees (C00465492). Most of Sestak’s pre-2013 campaign resources – his cash on-hand, staff, his PO Box, etc. – remained the same. The FEC categorizes ‘Friends of Joe Sestak,’ the new committee name, as the principal campaign committee of a Senate candidate.

That distinction could be what triggered the letter.

Much of Sestak’s fundraising haul came from checks written out for $5,200, the amount that the law permits individuals to contribute to a federal candidate each year.

“How can someone be exploring a run if they’re raising for a general election?” said a Democrat who’s an expert on campaign finance rules. “Accepting double-max checks includes the assumption that a candidate is getting through the primary.”

$5,200 is called a “double-max” by fundraisers because it includes the maximum donation allowed for a primary ($2,600) plus a general ($2,600). Those amounts must be bookmarked and can only be spent in the respective primary or general election.

The FEC’ rules on the matter are notoriously vague. It has established no numerical limit to what constitutes ‘exploratory’ activity. The cutoff could be as high as $10 million in Pa.

The Pa. Republican Party filed a complaint with the FEC in May, saying his large fundraising numbers demonstrated more than just a prospective interest in running. The party also noted, as the FEC’s letter did, that Sestak had crossed the $5,000 threshold.

However, the campaign finance expert said it’s unlikely the FEC’s letter is a response to the PAGOP complaint, based on the fact that FEC complains typically take years to resolve and tend to be resolved only after a relevant election cycle (in this case 2016).

Sestak has navigated the ‘exploratory’ line before. He campaigned around Pa. for months in 2009, before officially declaring his primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter.

What would a declaration mean for Sestak on the campaign trail? Practically speaking, not much.

Normally an advantage to having an exploratory committee is that a prospective candidate need not disclose campaign finance information. But Sestak is already following all the rules for campaign finance reporting.

He would, however, need to file a personal financial disclosure form on an annual basis.

Sestak does not appear poised to declare his candidacy. This fall, he will begin his tenure as the General Omar N. Bradley Chair in Strategic Leadership at Dickinson College and the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle. The position is non-partisan.

July 29th, 2013 | Posted in Front Page Stories, Senate, Top Stories | 17 Comments

17 thoughts on “FEC to Sestak: Declare Candidacy, or Disavow”

  1. Brian Civic says:

    David- Sestak won’t be stopped. And you -WILL vote for him when he does become our next Senator. 😉

  2. David Diano says:


    The theory was that a Senator Sestak might oversee a committee for a top-secret time-travel project, say “I was a f*cking 3-star Admiral and can press any damn button I want”, and wind up going back in time.

    Once Sestak realized he was stuck in 1963, and no one would believe he was an Admiral/Senator or put up with all his incredible bullsh*t, he would go crazy and become a gunman on the grassy knoll, create a second bullet theory, and unravel time.

    So, yes, Sestak had to be stopped to preserve the single bullet theory and preserve time and space.


  3. Brian Civic says:

    David Diano voted for Arlen Specter and his single bullet theory.

  4. David Diano says:

    John Baer of the Daily News weighs in, reminding readers of Joe’s fundraising letters.


  5. David Diano says:

    True Blue-

    You are absolutely correct about Joe being a blight on the party. I think that once the 2014 primaries are over, challengers to Sestak will begin to emerge as Dems look at how candidates fared statewide and fundraising coffers are checked.

    Why should Democrats fight to elect Sestak, as a one term Senator who will never have to face the voters again and be accountable to them?

    Many of us who supported him in 2006 to stand up to Bush, and insist that Iraq War funding be tied to timetables (or similar accountability) felt completely betrayed by Sestak’s May 2007 vote to give Bush a blank check. While most of his remaining supporters remained unaware of his vote, or bought his contradictory explanation, he at least had to face the voters again.

    BTW, when he did face complaining voters from the peace movement over his vote, he told them that if they didn’t stop complaining he might not run again (aka “take his ball and go home”). After that, he pretty much avoided those same members of the peace movement whom he had courted and lied to in 2006, as he no longer needed them.

    Sestak’s shown time and again that he can’t be trusted to help the Democratic party, or vote the way he campaigns. He can’t be trusted with an unchecked term in the Senate.

    Dems should be looking for a younger candidate with strong ties to the Democratic party and/or it’s principles, who could serve multiple terms. We’d love to have a Senator Kathleen Kane, Rob McCord, Daylin Leach, Josh Shapiro. etc. get into office and show the voters what Democrats can do.

  6. True Blue Dem says:

    Yet another red flag on Joe Sestak. The reason others have not emerged to challenge Pat Toomey is because they are good Democrats who are helping the party win the 2014 cycle. Only a total narcissist like Joe Sestak would begin campaigning for 2016 in the midst of the 2014 cycle. Joe Sestak is a loser and a blight to the Democratic party and there are candidates more worthy of the Senate seat. Democrats deserve better than Sestak.

  7. David Diano says:

    Red Devil-
    When Sestak was announced for this position in May, I read somewhere that active candidates were not allowed, which explained his phony “exploratory” status.

    This makes sense, as the position (exploring themes in leadership) would translate directly to campaign speeches, literature, platform, etc. The resources provided to the Chair would effectively become a contribution to the campaign. If you look at Sestak’s campaign website, using “Leadership for a Better America” as the theme.

    It’s a pretty blatant abuse of the honor for political gain, and Sestak’s claims of “exploratory” show how far he’s willing to insult our intelligence. But, this should come as no surprise to Sestak observers who’ve seen him don his military patch jacket in sweltering heat just to use it as a political prop.

  8. Red Devil Fan says:

    To answer “Help” —

    No, the Bradley Chair endowment doesn’t require the recipient to not be seeking political office. Mr. Diano, who has no connection to or understanding of the Bradley Chair, has formulated this idea in his own head, and is repeating it until it is true.

  9. Help says:

    What’s the story behind the Bradley Chair? Does the endowment require the recipient to not be seeking a political office?

  10. armchair hack says:

    Hate to say it, but Diano is right on all counts.

  11. David Diano says:

    1) Sestak is trying to pretending he’s got an exploratory committee and not an actual candidacy. While Joe might think he’s being slick or too cute by half, he’s just really demonstrating his inability to be honest and forthright.

    2) I predict Sestak will “fold” and file the candidacy letter requested.

    3) I predict he will relinquish the Bradley chair. Further, he will claim that it’s to avoid any appearance of impropriety (when in fact he will have been asked/told by the board/trustees that he must leave).

  12. Observer says:

    First, diano is an idiot who doesn’t know a thing about campaign finance regulation.

    Second, and more important, the FEC has NO permanent comissioners, thanks to Senate Republicans, so nothing they do know can be enforced. What we have is a bunch of no-job bureaucrats generating letters with no teeth behind them, in order to justify their enormous DC salaries. Joe would be well advised to do as he is doing, and flip these functionaries a below-the-table bird. Much ado about less-than-nothing…

  13. David Diano says:

    Red Devil-

    When Sestak was announced for the chair in May, the coverage pointed out that active candidates where not eligible. “partisan” background or viewpoint was not the issue, but candidacy.

    With Sestak being an actual candidate (rather than just a partisan), it is my understanding that he is no longer eligible for the position. If he had any actual ethics, he would step down (or declined in May). But, ethics and Joe are strangers.

    I would expect the trustees, officers, supervisors, and/or administrators of the Omar Bradley Chair to give Sestak the proper boot out the door. The blatant dishonesty of calling his campaign an “exploratory committee” should be enough of an ethics concern for them to disassociate themselves from Sestak immediately.

  14. Red Devil Fan says:

    In the below comments, Mr. Diano remarks that Mr. Sestak must withdraw from the Bradley Chair at Dickinson College and the US Army War College. This is not at all the case. Politically partisan figures have held the position in the past. For a recent example, I would cite to P.J. Crowley.

    Let me be clear, there is nothing about the Omar Bradley Chair that requires anything that Mr. Diano describes. His description and understanding is purely his own, crafted entirely in his own head.

    Mr. Diano must stop permitting his deeply personal animosity toward Admiral Sestak cloud his analysis of other issues.

  15. David Diano says:


    1) Don’t count McCord out yet. He has good fundraising abilities, and he’s pretty well liked.

    2) Schwartz acting like a lapdog for the NSA regarding blanket data collection is not going to help her.

    3) McCord doesn’t officially announce his official candidacy until probably September

    4) I think Sestak weaknesses will bring plenty of other “marque” candidates out of the woodwork for a shot at Toomey with presidential turnout. (I’ve heard some interesting names through the grapevine, but it’s too early to discuss them)

  16. Jeremy says:

    A few things here…

    1. McCord seems to be an intriguing figure in this. I am beginning to think McCord has his eye on the Senate and may challenge Sestak for this seat. First, McCord hasn’t won a poll yet. It doesn’t look like he will win the Guv. primary. Second, if he really wanted the Guv seat, why didn’t he campaign his mind out last year running as treasure. I would bet Sestak visited more counties than McCord last year.

    2. I think McCord is using the Guv race for Senate just like Sestak but playing a quieter hand. I could see a scenario where McCord drops out of the primary because he knows he can’t win.

    3. If McCord drops out, I think that ascends Wolf. I think the McCord/Wolfe voters are the same people and Wolfe would absorb those voters which may allow him to win the primary.

    4. I don’t know it is just a thought. I have been wrong before. Can anyone else see this??

  17. David Diano says:

    “A Sestak spokesman said his campaign has been in regular contact with the FEC since the beginning of the year as an effort to stay on the appropriate side of its often murky rules.”

    Nothing “murky” about $5,000 limit according to the FEC letter.

    My take on the FEC letter is that he has 3 choices:
    1) Claim that didn’t authorize the campaign activity (ie disavow)
    2) Give all the money back
    3) Officially, admit he’s a candidate.

    #3 implies that he must withdraw (or be removed) from the Omar Bradley chair.

    As far as Joe’s double-max contributions, the memo fields for the entries say: 2014, not 2016. The only Federal races in PA in 2014 are for congress. Is it “murky” to confuse run for Congress with statewide Senate race (two years later), or a 2014 Governor’s race?

    Does Joe need to refile and amend this?

    As for the question: “The key question could be whether or not Sestak actually created a new exploratory committee distinct from his 2010 Senate campaign committee.”
    This is the same committee, just under a different name, because all previous FEC Senate reports are all under this committee.

    Maybe Joe should rename is committee: “The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight”

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