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GOP Files FEC Complaint Against Sestak

Joe Sestak headshot
Joe Sestak

The Pa. GOP is trying to succeed where so many before them have failed: to make Joe Sestak say what he’s running for.

The party filed a complaint Friday with the Federal Election Commission, accusing the former Congressman and former Admiral of raising lots of money without making a formal declaration of his candidacy.

The legal action first was reported by Thomas Fitzgerald of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
A full copy of the complaint is here (PDF).

Sestak has kept a public profile in recent years. But just as he did in 2009 – when he teased a primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter for months before actually declaring one – he’s been coy about his intentions since his close U.S. Senate defeat in 2010.

Speculation heated up when he raised a whopping $460,000 between Jan. 1 and March 31 this year under the umbrella of an exploratory committee. He hasn’t said what, if anything, he plans to run for. He could seek another term in Congress, challenge Sen. Pat Toomey in 2016, or transfer all of the money into a state account and run for Governor in 2014.

Because his haul was so big his indecision crosses the line, the PAGOP says. He must file an official declaration of candidacy for one office.

The party wrote, “FEC regulations provide that an indication of candidate status is raising funds ‘in excess of what could reasonably be expected to be used for exploratory activities or undertakes activities designed to amass campaign funds that would be spent after he or she becomes a candidate’. 11 C.F.R.§100.72 (2).”

Sestak spent just over $10,000 in the first quarter, mostly on payroll expenses and maintenance of his VAN NGP donor database.

The PAGOP appears to have a valid compliant. $460,000 is a lot of money for an exploratory committee, especially because television and other ad spending is heavily constrained by the FEC.

Spokesman Edwin Wee said Sestak checked with the FEC not once but thrice – months ago, prior to receiving the GOP complaint – and was told that they are well within the limits of the law.

“It was validated with the FEC three times that exploratory committees have no statements of candidacy and that our fundraising was per its guidelines for an exploratory committee,” Wee said.

“If Joe Sestak wants to be a candidate for public office, he should be open and transparent about his intentions,” said PAGOP Chairman Rob Gleason. “While it’s beyond negligent and wrong for Joe Sestak to be violating the law, how can anyone trust him with more responsibility when he’s proven he can’t get his own affairs in order? Joe Sestak should return all funds raised improperly until he tells the public what he’s really up to.”

18 Responses

  1. Postscript….
    I posted my previous two posts before I was aware of the PoliticsPA story that Sestak had formally announced for Senate.

    Hats off to my personal political guru/Yoda/Obi-Wan who insisted to me as late as yesterday afternoon that Sestak’s only interest was in Senate.

  2. “GOP”
    Well, I used to think that it didn’t matter how badly he treated his staff, since they could just quit (unlike his suffering crew at sea).

    However, what I didn’t count on was how high the turnover would be, and how damaging the “brain-drain” would be, reducing the effectiveness of his office. Sestak’s operation became more about quantity than quality. He had one of the largest staffs, and smallest staff payroll. He was a last resort stop for staffers wanting to work in Congress.

    So, Sestak’s rep should be “he gets things done, poorly”. Joe is quite the master at self promotion and projecting a false image of himself.

    He still gets everyone to introduce him as three-star Admiral, even though he was forced out (for mistreating his staff) and is officially “two-star admiral, retired”.

  3. Steph-

    It certainly does smell.

    I looked at Sestak’s filing to rename his committee, and the only thing it changed was the name. There was no indication it was an exploratory committee.

    So, I think that it’s still a Senate committee.
    Sestak has had a hard-on to be Senator, since before he ran for Congress. Running for Congress was just a necessary stepping stone.
    Multiple sources keep saying/speculating that his wife and kid haven’t the slightest interest in moving to PA, so Gov is not really in the cards.
    It will be funny if this FEC complaint at least forces him to declare/admit. Funnier if he gets fined.

  4. I was simply responding to earlier posted comments asking why the GOP should care/be afraid of Sestak.

    Sestak’s negative was lack of state experience. His background is all federal.

    Don’t care how Sestak treats his staff. No different than how tough Corbett, Schweiker, Ridge treat(ed) their staff. Don’t now about Rendell. Sestak’s rep with the GOP is that “he gets things done”.

    Personally, I hope that Schwartz is the DEM
    Dem nominee. Rather face her than Sestak, McCord, or Wolf. She’s got more downside .

  5. Half a million is a LOT of money to raise for an exploratory committee. Most raise money under the guise of an exploratory committee to decide whether it is viable to run for a specific office. Sestak appears to be raising money with the office already picked out, in order to pick up extra publicity. It just doesn’t pass the smell test.

  6. OMG: The PAGOP calls for transparency? Why not give a refund to the sucker donors, who gave thousands of dollars to your candidates that already were in body bags? I have an idea for the PAGOP: Asess all the Knights of Corbett’s Round Table for $500k. We don’t want Brabender to starve do we?

  7. @GOP Committee Member (ie Sestak campaign staffer)

    GOP internals? Seriously? Every poll shows every Dem beating Corbett by a wide margin. Sestak’s ONLY edge in these early polls is a bit wider name recognition.

    There’s still a bunch of people who think Sestak is playing this “free publicity” to appear relevant until he can run against Toomey in 2016, and using it to get a jumpstart on fundraising. In a presidential year, a fully funded (no senate primary) Sestak would probably beat Toomey because Philly would turn out (unlike in 2010).

    Like I said, I’ve been making inquiries with my Democratic allies about filing an FEC complaint against Sestak myself. I think he’s far more dangerous to the Dems (and helpful to Corbett).

    As for you analysis of the “weaknesses” of the rest of the Dem field, you seem to leave out any weaknesses of Sestak. (Telltale sign you are Sestak staffer).

    Schwartz’s liberalism will help her in the Primary. Sestak suffers from a false believe that he is a liberal (due to way he ran his 2010 primary). I cringe every time some clueless idiot refers to Sestak as a liberal Democrat. (He’s not, though he plays one on to some audiences.) Schwartz has a deeper donor base and will far outstrip Sestak in fundraising.

    McCord was twice elected treasurer. With budget issues for PA, McCord should be able to run rings around Corbett. As far as “shady deals”, Corbett is the king there with all the fracking, deals for his contributors, privatization, etc. McCord is a stead hand at the till, and not a hothead like Sestak.

    Sestak’s “executive” experience is not legislative. It’s barking orders to crew members trapped with him at sea. (See movie: Caine Mutiny)

    He lost half his congressional staff in the first few months, and went through a half dozen press secretaries his first year in Congress. The guy couldn’t manage a McDonalds, without a constant stream of unskilled workers to replace the ones leaving.

    Can you imagine the turmoil he would cause in charge of a Governor’s staff or state government? Anyone with an ounce of talent or ability would find work in the private sector. Sestak’s congressional staff suffered from a steady loss of “institutional knowledge” as constituent requests got handed from departing staffer to new staffer or lost in the shuffle. I spoke to one guy who had three different staffers start from scratch on his case over the span of several months.

    Basically, the GOP is doing the Dems a favor now by hitting Sestak, and themselves a favor for 2016 if the FEC agrees with the complaint and fines Sestak.

  8. The reality is that Sestak is the only candidate that the GOP fears.

    Sestak’s spokesperson is right, Sestak is in compliance with the FEC guidelines. Sestak’s silence is driving the GOP batty!

    What’s prompted Gleason’s action is the GOP internals in the Governor’s race. Sestak, Schwartz, McCord and Wolf were all polled against Corbet. After both pro/con arguments/paragraphs read, Sestak was the only one — and by a substantial margin — that bested Corbett. Those internals, plus Sestak having a national donor base; being a tireless campaigner; and barely losing for Senate in a “Republican wave year” – is causing major angst among the GOP.

    And if you think that’s not the case, look no further than who is being attacked — Sestak — and he’s not even an announced candidate. You don’t see Schwartz, McCord or Wolf being attacked — they’d die for this publicity, being attacked by the GOP party chairman – a “partisan attack”!!!.

    Sestak is exactly what the cycle is calling for (and what the internals are reflecting) that Corbet gets beat by — a candidate with a strong, tireless work-ethic, who has executive experience, who’s not partisan and is principled on the issues. That’s what the internals are showing PA voters are looking for..

    Schwartz is viewed as too liberal, lacks executive experience, and is gonna have real trouble in western PA, the T, and Northeast PA. To put it bluntly, she’s not Kathleen Kane in either personality or experience.

    McCord has issues regarding his investment firm background that does not play too well.

    Wolf, the former PA State Revenue Secretary under Rendell, you just see the ads writing themselves against him.

  9. Jeremy-
    I’m not sure what GOP is afraid of with Sestak. He’s been a gift to them.

    He works hard, but ineffectively. His staffers do twice as much work for half the results. He’s fortunate in that he can attract cheap labor for his campaigns. He’s got zero appeal in debates, and hasn’t won one that I’ve seen. Best he’s done is a draw. He’s kind of smarmy and obviously insincere. Toomey, on the other hand, does come off as sincere (even though he’s lying through his teeth on policy).

    That said, Sestak’s best shot at Senate is to run for 7th, win, and hope Hillary runs in 2016.

  10. On another note, why would the GOP care? Are they trying to protect Toomey? Corbett? Or do they think Sestak will pull a fast one and run for his Congressional seat?

  11. Chuck-

    Sestak hurt himself by being so secretive and “inner-circle”. He didn’t get any outside advise from actual experts on campaign finance law. Joe’s got a bunker mentality (which is one of the many reasons he is unsuitable for high office, and for representing the Democratic party).

    I’m interested to see if the campaign money Joe’s been spending for health insurance (apparently for his brother) is kosher.

    Sestak could easily skip a June debate, as it’s very early and it won’t really get much coverage. You would never see a Dem/Rep debate in June 2014, let alone June 2013, because no one would be paying attention.

    Besides, June 14th, 2013 is the Friday the new Superman movie comes out. Who’s going to watch a debate?

  12. Steven, you are completely missing the point. The example you gave is someone operating under STATE law, not FEDERAL.

    Same as the other questions you ask. There would be no problem if this was a STATE PAC. However, Sestak, as usual too cute by half, chose to raise under his federal PAC, which has many more rules. He’s trying to be too coy, and has tied himself into a knot.

  13. Won’t any candidate who plans to run have to declare by the first debate on June 14th?? So basically, anyone who hasn’t officially declared has to declare by that date ala Joe Sestak and Rob McCord.

    It usually is common to declare 18 months out for a big race. It is now that time.

    If they missed out on the first debate, it won’t be the end of the world but why wait.

  14. The two funny things here are:

    1) I had nothing to do with this (other than alerting PoliticsPA to Sestak’s FEC filing last month)

    2) I had planned to file a complaint with the FEC myself that Sestak not only should have to declare, but was apparently spending his Federal contributions for a run at State office.

    I think it was PoliticsPA that reported in Jan 2011 that Sestak staffers were overheard at a state committee event that Sestak’s 67-county “thank-you tour” was just smoke screen for a run at Governor. If so, then all the Federal money Sestak’s been spending since for a planned Gov run, could well be a violation. Sestak purchased over a thousand dollars in “stationery”, about a year ago, well after his 2010 defeat.

    Why would he need all that stationery? What campaign name is printed on it?

    All of Sesak’s memo fields in the lastest FEC report said “2014” (general or primary). Sestak wouldn’t be raising that kind of money that early for a Congressional run, nor hiring a spokesman/campaign-consultant at this stage.

    If I filed with the FEC, I would have also asked them to look into why Joe’s brother was the only person on payroll, making $85/month, but the campaign was spending hundreds in healthcare insurance. Smells fishy to me.

    I’m sure the GOP can amend their FEC complaint to look into this as well. 🙂

  15. For perspective: my former Twp Supervisor, Mike Pries, left office with $55,073.97 and $13,992.05 shown on his 2009 Annuals. He wasn’t running for a thing. Very shortly after amassing such cash, he was – out of the blue, I’m sure – appointed to Dauphin Co Commiss. He then – equally unforeseen, I’m just as certain – ran the very next time…as an incumbent…with a huge fundraising jump. No complaints from the Rs, or statements from their leadership that his actions were “beyond negligent and wrong for to be violating the law”. He was a Republican, though.

  16. @Keegan.Gibson: No. The premise is that Sestak is raising funds that ‘could reasonably be expected to be used for exploratory activities or undertakes activities designed to amass campaign funds that would be spent after he or she becomes a candidate’

    And I mistyped; I meant to type: “- and spending just over $10,000 – “

  17. Corbett is widely regarded to be anticipated to spend $30M+ on re-election. Given that, why is raising less than half a mill – just over $10,000 – considered to be ‘in excess of what could reasonably be expected to be used for exploratory activities or undertakes activities designed to amass campaign funds that would be spent after he or she becomes a candidate’?

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