The State Elections Enforcement Commission decided Wednesday that Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz’s spending of about $45,800 on ‘Thank You’ parties after the state Supreme Court found her to be ineligible to run for Attorney General, was unprecedented. But it was unclear if that spending violated any campaign laws.
The commission was unable to point to any specific campaign laws in this settlement agreement that it may have broken, but asked it to cease spending any further funds. A step it had already taken earlier this summer.
Bysiewicz’s committee, Friends of Susan 2010 Inc., argued that if any of its spending was unreasonable, it was the $9,800 it paid to an out-of-state consultant for counsel and guidance to help wrap up the campaign after it ended unexpectedly and to help coordinate a thank you effort, according to the SEEC report.
“The committee asserts that each of these needs was reasonable and necessary, but were rendered much more complex by the unusual and historically unique circumstance of an overwhelming front-running candidate being involuntarily barred from the race in midstream by an 11th-hour state Supreme Court decision, all under intense press scrutiny,” the report read.
The commission noted that, given the unusual circumstance that led to the abrupt end of Bysiewicz campaign for Attorney General, it was difficult to find legal precedence to base their findings on.
For instance, following her announcement that she would not be seeking any office in 2010, Bysiewicz held seven “thank you” parties for her supporters. The committee spent $7,300 on pizza, sub sandwiches, and rental fees for the parties and another $10,500 on the printing and mailing of thank you notes and invitations to the parties, according to the report. The events were attended by over 800 people, amounting to less than $9.20 per attendee, the committee told the SEEC.
On those expenses, the commission found guidance in a state regulation governing post-campaign expenditures, which indicated that it was permissible for an attorney general candidate to spend $3,500 to thank supporters, campaign staff, contributors, and volunteers. However, that regulation is aimed at candidates who participated in public financing programs, which Bysiewicz did not.
Bob Martino, Bysiewicz’s lawyer, reiterated the commission’s statement that, due to the historic nature of the end of her campaign, there are no clear guidelines on how a candidate should proceed. Martino said that the General Assembly and the SEEC should draft some clear guidelines for situations like Bysiewicz’s. He also said the committee believed it was important to thank supporters around the state and the amount that was spent on the parties was not uncommon.
The committee spent another $18,000 on the salaries of three employees who continued working after the announcement. Two of those employees helped coordinate the thank you parties and were let go immediately after the last party was over, the report said. The third employee remained to manage the campaign’s financial and reporting obligations, which were complicated by its unexpected end, the committee told the SEEC.
The commission seemed to grant the necessity of some of these expenses, noting that “although not explicitly provided for, we note that it would be absurd and unworkable to not also allow expenditures for reasonable wrap up costs such as but not limited to copying required documents, closing headquarters, and completing and filing the final financial disclosure reports.”
The report addresses another expense which may not have been proper under state statutes. According to the report the committee believed the expense, about $14,000 paid to an unspecified vendor, was proper but said it could not provide specific information to the commission that would allow it to make the determination.
The committee wrote three checks to the vendor, only one of them was negotiated, the report said. The campaign sought and received a refund for that check. The other two were voided. As a result Bysiewicz personally paid $14,000 out of pocket, which will not be refunded to her by the committee, the report said.
Martino said that the vendor was likely the consultant, noting that the committee kept him on board for longer than they otherwise would have because it was unprepared for the campaign’s abrupt end.
“We were full speed ahead, with the convention the next day, when the surprise Supreme Court ruling came out,” he said, likening the decision to get the rug pulled out from under the campaign.
While the commission only ordered the committee to cease and desist violating state statutes it did not impose any fines. However, that $14,000 adds to what has already been a costly election cycle for Bysiewicz. It is unknown how much she paid out of pocket in legal fees for the unsuccessful lawsuit she filed against herself, her office, and the Democratic Party to prove she was qualified to run for attorney general but the state Republican Party incurred about $140,000 fighting that same lawsuit.
Martino said he didn’t know off hand how much the election cycle cost Bysiewicz but said that the Attorney General’s position was one of two jobs that she has wanted for some time so she was willing to invest in the campaign. The other job? The U.S. Senate.
When asked, Martino said that Bysiewicz doesn’t currently have any concrete plans to run for U.S. Senate in 2012 but said she will likely be returning to public service at some point in the future, whether it will be in two years or 10, he couldn’t say. For now she will be focusing on wrapping up her duties as the Secretary of the State and enjoying the holidays with her family, he said.