The Federal Election Commission announced Friday it had charged Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio with an $8,000 fine for accepting improper campaign donations during his 2010 Senate run. But should Rubio fans be worried it could hurt his chances to become Mitt Romney's running mate?
If the long list of successful politicians who have faced similar troubles with the FEC is any indication, the answer is no.
Rubio, who Politico first reported would pay the fine rather than accept $210,000 in questionable donations, joins a long list of notable lawmakers in the FEC Bad Boys Club. And some of their accounting mistakes make Rubio's troubles—part of a campaign that raised more than $21 million in all—look like a squabble over chump change.
In 2010, for instance, the commission slapped now-Democratic Vice President Joseph Biden's presidential campaign with $219,000 in fines for accepting in-kind contributions that included a ride in a corporate jet and donations beyond the legal limit in 2007 and 2008. That's nearly 25 times greater than Rubio's fine, so it hardly seems likely that President Barack Obama's re-election campaign would make Rubio's FEC difficulties an issue if he's on the ticket. (An FEC audit of the Obama campaign earlier this month found that it had failed to report nearly $2 million in donations in 2008.)
The problem, said Bob Biersack, senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics, is due to the fast-paced nature of political campaigns combined with the complex rules set by the FEC.
"It's in part the challenge of a pretty chaotic situation where you're growing really fast," said Biersack, who worked at the FEC for 30 years before joining CRP. "The rules are esoteric sometimes; they're weird sometimes. It's hard to understand. It's money, so it's very precise. People are giving contributions very quickly."
While Rubio's FEC fine—which the campaign appears to have resolved swiftly—is not likely to torpedo his political career, Biersack added that the standards set by the commission are still important.
"I don't want to minimize this, necessarily. Those rules are there for a reason," he said. "There are restrictions and limitations and they're meaningful. … It's not trivial, and I don't think think they treated it as trivial either, but in the greater scheme of things, this is not the biggest scandal that the campaign finance world has seen."
Failing to adhere to the FEC's rules has proved a bipartisan problem over the years. In 2004, the commission charged former President George W. Bush's presidential campaign with $90,000 in civil penalties for not disclosing its receipts during the Florida recount proceedings in 2000. Other FEC violators include Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who ran as Al Gore's 2000 vice presidential running mate, 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton and former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to name a few.
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