Ethics watchdog files complaint against Sen. Martinez
Nick Juliano
Published: Friday May 11, 2007
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A government watchdog group has called on the Federal Election Commission to fine Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., nearly $800,000 because the group says Martinez failed to collect required information about nearly half the contributors to his 2004 campaign and took hundreds of thousands of dollars in excessive contributions.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal advocacy group, highlighted an FEC audit of Martinez's campaign released last month that found he failed to disclose the occupation of 46 percent of his contributors. Martinez also failed to provide any information related to $320,000 worth of contributions. CREW filed a formal complaint with the FEC based on these and other alleged fundraising transgressiions.

“The violations committed by Martinez for Senate are unprecedented in both size and scope.” CREW'S Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a news release. “Basically, Mel Martinez broke the law in order to win an election.”

Calls to Martinez's senate and campaign office, as well as to the Republican National Committee, of which he is chairman, were not immediately returned today.

Martinez raised more than $12 million for his 2004 race, in which he was elected to fill the vacant seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, according to Political Money Line, which tracks campaign contributions. Employment information was left blank for about 3,400 contributors who gave more than $3.6 million to Martinez's campaign, according to the site.

CREW, which targets primarily Republican politicians although a few Democrats have found themselves in the group's sites, alleges Martinez violated the Federal Election Campaign Act and FEC regulations by refusing to collect necessary information about donors.

The group says Martinez's campaign failed to collect necessary information on contributors who attended a May 2004 fundraiser sponsored by liquor company Bacardi, and the campaign made no "best effort" as required by election regulations to get the information once they learned it had been omitted from fundraising disclosures, a lawyer who helped CREW prepare the complaint told RAW STORY.

Martinez also allegedly bundled $320,000 in contributions to his campaign that were made to four separate joint fundraising committees without disclosing any information about the original source of donations. This could allow donors to subvert fundraising regulations by giving the maximum donations to each committee, thereby donating more than allowable to Martinez's campaign.

CREW also alleges Martinez failed to report more than $140,000 in donations he received in the final days of the 2004 campaign.

In a letter to the FEC, CREW complained that Martinez's alleged bookkeeping violations gave him "a tactical advantage" over his opponent and made "the campaign's FEC reports virtually worthless to both voters and opposing candidates."

CREW says the $800,000 fine it is requesting be imposed is in line with FEC guidelines on penalties and represents the total donations that were improperly collected or reported. An FEC spokeswoman contacted by RAW STORY said she could not comment on an ongoing complaint.