“Strange for Senate” Explains Campaign Finance Questions
This week in Montgomery, questions emerged regarding the “Strange for Senate” campaign’s compliance with Alabama’s state campaign laws.
The issue in question was one of funds that were moved from Luther Strange’s U.S. Senate campaign account to his Alabama Attorney General campaign account. Specifically, transfers between campaigns can’t exceed $1,000 and the two transactions in question totaled $1,418.27, fueling the questions about whether or not Alabama’s campaign law was broken.
Upon hearing these rumblings, Yellowhammer contacted the Senator’s campaign office. They connected us with Megan Newton and Ben Ginsberg, lawyers from Jones Day that are tasked with ensuring the Senator’s compliance with Federal Elections Commission laws. Mrs. Newton explained that the actions in question were actually steps the Senator took to comply with federal campaign laws.
As she pointed out, Senator Strange’s U.S. Senate campaign purchased two domain names from his state Attorney General’s campaign. Federal law requires that such purchases be recorded, and that’s what occurred. In other words, it wasn’t a transfer of contributions between campaigns, it was an accounting entry for a transaction, which the federal law requires.
Yellowhammer also contacted Alabama’s Secretary of State, John Merrill, who provided us with the following statement:
The Alabama Secretary of State’s Office is the agency tasked with receipt and collection of all campaign finance filings from state, county, and certain local officials. Once these reports are collected, Secretary of State staff review the reports for errors, issues, or concerns. When issues are identified, a request for a formal review is forwarded to the Alabama Ethics Commission or the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.
At the completion of the review performed by our team, potential concerns with Senator Strange’s filing were identified. As is our normal practice, it was reported to the appropriate agency. This referral does not attempt to assign, insinuate, or indicate guilt nor act as an indictment of Senator Strange’s actions regarding the filing of his report.
Senator Strange and his team believe Federal law preempts contributions to his Alabama Principal Campaign Committee for Attorney General. With that said, in the Secretary of State’s Office, we have a responsibility to follow the law and will continue to address issues and forward items of concern as they are identified.
Our office will refer any future questions regarding this issue to the Alabama Ethics Commission as the body tasked by the Alabama Legislature to rule on these matters.
While the response from the Ethics Commission is unknown at this time, Mr. Ginsberg further explained that federal law supersedes state law and the transaction took place to keep the Senate campaign in compliance with federal law.
As he stated: “It is legally incorrect for anyone to suggest that a violation of law has occurred here. Senator Strange’s campaign closely followed federal law by purchasing two web domains at fair market value from his state campaign committee. This was an asset purchase, not a contribution. In fact, not only was this purchase legal, it was required under federal law to avoid his Senate campaign receiving a prohibited contribution from a non-federal source. Federal law preempts state law for all matters involving campaign contributions and expenditures.”