PA-Sen: Sestak Cleared by FEC, Ends Exploratory Phase

Joe-Sestak-headshotThe Federal Election Committee cleared Senate candidate and former Congressman Joe Sestak of any wrongdoing today. They are, however, requesting that the candidate end the exploratory phase of his candidacy and transition to a campaign committee.

The Pennsylvania Republican Party first filed their FEC complaint against Sestak back in May 2013 in an attempt to get him to declare his intentions.

“I have changed our exploratory committee for U.S. Senate to a candidate committee,” Sestak said. “After deliberating 14 months, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has requested we change to a candidate committee due to the use of the word “seek” in our committee’s correspondence.”

“The FEC determined that the use of the word ‘seek’ in several emails in the context of ‘seeking the U.S. Senate’ was not ‘knowing and willful,’ and thus there is no basis to conclude on the current record that [the Committee and Joe Sestak] intentionally rejected a known legal obligation’,” he explained.

The candidate also reiterated that the report (which can be viewed in its entirety here) stated that the FEC “found no reason to believe that the Committee violated the Act.”

“Even though the committee found no violation of law, I have asked the FEC to hold me personally accountable for this administrative error – and not the committee nor my staff – because with responsibility goes accountability, and the responsibility for any error must be solely mine, regardless of my exploratory intentions,” Sestak stated.

Sestak is contemplating a rematch against Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who he ran against in 2010.

Sen. Toomey has had his own issues with the FEC in the past. In 2005, the FEC began an investigation into the Club for Growth, looking into a period when Toomey was serving as its Treasurer. In 2007, the government agency concluded that the organization had accepted $10.78 million in donations that exceeded contribution limits. The Club for Growth was ordered to pay back the money to the government and was fined $350,000.

Sestak concluded his statement with a plea to clean up (and clear up) the country’s byzantine campaign finance laws.

“One step in making our government more accountable is through campaign finance reform,” Sestak concluded.

11 Responses

  1. As a long-time Volunteer for Joe Sestak (not this time, retired to Florida), Joe Joe is tough and fair and wants you to be that way too!! Joe is ALWAYS accountable for his actions and takes full responsibility for his actions and the actions of his campaign staff. Believe me, there were times that we as volunteers wished he wasn’t so adamant about how we appeared and spoke when working for his campaigns!! Of course, there will always be people who have personal problems with individuals and their style of performance. Remember, style is not substance. You GO, Joe.

  2. Steve-

    Actually, underpaying staff is a big problem (especially with someone like Sestak). Here is why:

    1) Sestak, in particular, takes advantage of young, naive supporters. He has frequently tried to convince grad students to take a year off to work for him, and recommended they just move back and sponge off their parents to live off of. The quote I heard from one of students who had the common sense to reject the idea was: “That’s what parents are for.”

    2) He had HUGE turnover in his congressional staff. This resulted in the constant loss of “institutional” knowledge and failures to address constituent issues. I spoke to one of his constituents whose issue kept getting forgotten as the staffers he spoke to kept quitting, and he went back to square one every few months with a new staffer.

    3) Sestak has a well-known reputation for verbally abusing his staff, and forcing them to work 70+ hours a week, without additional compensation, beyond the 40 hours they are paid. So, how can we trust a legislator to support Unions and worker rights, when he flagrantly treats his employees in ways that would trigger a strike anywhere else?

    4) As for them earning more elsewhere, it’s true that many of Sestak’s congressional staffers could have earned more money working at McDonalds or Walmart. But, that’s the problem, since there are a limited number of slots to work in government, unscrupulous employers like Sestak can take advantage. This is particularly true when dealing with young workers, right out of college, who want a career serving in politics, and don’t have a lot of choices.

    5) This results in Sestak getting a lot of staffers without any self esteem, who follow orders without questioning them, and are often sub-par or merely buying time to bolt. News articles on Sestak had referred to him as the employer of last resort for congressional staffers. So, if you weren’t good enough or lucky enough to get hired by a better congressman, you got stuck with Sestak.

    6) In this case, however, it seems as though Sestak has been dodging paying payroll taxes and benefits. If his brother was “payroll” for only $89 per month, with benefits and employment taxes, then his current staffers, who are full time at $3000/month should surely be listed under “payroll” as well and Sestak should be paying their benefits and employment taxes. I suspect it’s either a loophole for being an “exploratory” committee or an actual violation of the tax code that he’s been getting away with.

    7) There’s a difference between a “consultant” and a full-time (or even part-time) employee. Would we accept Walmart calling all it’s employees “consultants” and skipping benefits? We’ve heard of cases of employers dropping workers below 30 hours a week. Does anyone think that Sestak is paying a staffer $3000/month for less than 30 hours a week?

  3. Who cares what he pays his campaign & staff? I am currently working on Gene Stilp’s campaign staff for $0.00. That is exactly equal to what I earned as John Hanger’s Dauphin County Coordinator (so this is a lateral career move 😉

    I mention this because the vast majority of the many campaign and staff workers I’ve known – paid or unpaid – do it because they believe in and want that candidate/elected office holder to succeed. Every single one could earn good money working elsewhere, if that was what they wanted to spend their time doing.

    If the pay was not sufficient, Sestak’s staff would leave. If they are staying, then they are happy with what it is.

  4. Isaac L,-

    What Sestak paid his congressional staff was a bigger disgrace than what he paid his campaign staff.

  5. Phil Perspective-
    As far as I could tell from the FEC filings, up until his death, Sestak’s brother was on the books as a payroll-employ making about $87 per month, and getting $500 in health insurance benefits.
    His current staffers are being paid under “consulting fee”. Edwin Wee is one of these employees and also listed as the treasure. Last month, he was the recipient of a letter from the FEC to the campaign demanding an explanation for the use of “consulting fee” under Disbursements, and further clarification. They reference an FEC document of “inadequate” descriptions of disbursement, and list “General Consulting” among them. Oops !

    Apparently, a specific form of consulting must be identified in the description. But, Mr. Wee has been previously listed as a campaign spokesperson in addition to Treasurer, and I keep getting campaign emails from him (touting emails from Sestak). So, he sounds like a general campaign staffer, not a specific consultant, as required.

    Translation: they got caught dodging the rules and probably put Mr. Wee in some legal jeopardy as the Treasurer (and one of the “consultants”).

    This explains Sestak’s decision to come clean on the status of his campaign. I suspect we will see Mr. Wee and the other staffers categorized differently in future FEC reports.

  6. Also, if he wants any chance at winning, he needs to hire a professional campaign manager this time around and not rely on the echo chamber of his siblings telling him what he wants to hear for $1,700 a week.

  7. What Sestak paid his employees (that weren’t related to him) was unconscionable for a Democratic candidate. If he intends to make a serious challenge against Senator Toomey, I sincerely hope he reconsiders how he intends to pay his staff. They worked harder and longer hours than any campaign staff I’ve seen and the pittance they were paid is positively offensive. Any campaign staffer knows wages are generally not awesome and that 60-100 hour weeks are not unusual, but paying less than $2,000 a month literally and figuratively devalues what campaign staffers do.

  8. Good to hear. I thought the whole thing was silly in the first place…if I remember correctly, the GOP did this BEFORE Sestak said he wasn’t running for governor, so this is just a wash, anyway.

  9. Will Sestak have to start paying employment taxes and benefits for his staff (instead of pretending they are “consultants”)?

    Given how long away the campaign is, who is employed by Sestak ’16(aka “Kick Toomey to the curb in ’16” or what ever it is called) right now?

  10. Sestak offers to be accountable only AFTER he was declared clear of anything wrong, for which he could be held to account. Of course, his intentions have always been to run, rather than explore, because you don’t need $1 million in the bank to “explore”. It’s a rock solid bet that Sestak told his big donors privately that he was running and “explore” was a ruse.

    It would be hilarious if the donors asked for their remaining money back, claiming it was given only for exploring, not running. 🙂

    Will Sestak have to start paying employment taxes and benefits for his staff (instead of pretending they are “consultants”)?

    Seriously, any Sestak staffers reading this: talk to some real Dems about your worker rights. Don’t ask Joe, because he paid his congressional staff less than the minimum wage per hour.

  11. Translation:
    “We screwed up, but because we are all ignoramuses, we’re innocent. Oops.”

Comments are closed.

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