Jill Stein owes the FEC more than $66,000 in campaign finance penalties
- Jill Stein, the 2016 U.S. Green Party presidential candidate, owes the Federal Election Commission more than $66,000 for campaign finance violations, an FEC press secretary told Business Insider.
- In December 2016, Stein promised his donors could vote on how to spend excess funds from the $7.3 million his campaign had raised for a recount in the 2016 presidential election. That never happened. .
- Instead, Stein spent millions on election-related litigation in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, awarded raises and “performance bonuses” to her 2016 campaign staff, who continued to work for her until in 2019, and spent $113,000 on his legal defense before U.S. Senate Russia. investigation.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Jill Stein of the Green Party has raised millions of dollars to recount the 2016 U.S. presidential election, promising her donors — mostly liberals struggling with Donald Trump’s shock victory in the Electoral College — sweeping transparency and a direct democracy.
But instead of checking the outcome of the last presidential election, a majority of the $7.3 million Stein raised for vote counting has, according to a review of his campaign’s financial disclosures, been spent on other things. .
It went to the salaries of his senior campaign staff, who were kept on for another three years, Stein’s personal legal defense attorneys in the US Senate’s Russia investigation, and tens of thousands of dollars in fines imposed by the Federal Election Commission.
The Stein campaign is now cash-strapped and still owes the FEC tens of thousands of dollars for failing to disclose how it spent donations, mandatory reports sometimes filed more than a year late. It means an oft-repeated campaign promise won’t be kept: a prioritizing vote for donors on how to spend the money they donated that didn’t go toward the original cause.
As Stein’s new campaign said in December 2016, donors could choose which “nonpartisan electoral reform and voting rights organizations” would receive those funds, with a vote taking place “in the coming weeks.”
—Dr. Jill Stein🌻 (@DrJillStein) December 14, 2016
But rather than a vote, the Stein campaign decided which causes, election-related or not, should benefit from the generosity of donors. More than $113,000 has been spent on legal representation for Stein herself, whose 2016 dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin caught the attention of lawmakers investigating Kremlin election interference.
The Stein campaign also filed lawsuits. In Wisconsin, he sued for the right to review source code used by state voting machines, losing at least $750,000 to attorneys. He eventually prevailed, but not before running out of money the campaign had previously said was needed to pay experts to interpret the code.
A district judge called Stein’s litigation ‘silly’, ‘thoughtless’ and ‘unnecessary’
In Pennsylvania, the Stein campaign spent $2.25 million in remaining recount money in an effort to get the Commonwealth to commit to a paper trail in future elections — something its Democratic Governor, Tom Wolf, had already ordered the counties to do.
That litigation, which culminated in a settlement agreement where the Wolf administration reaffirmed its existing efforts to replace voting machines, dragged on through 2020, with Stein’s lawyers arguing that the new machines weren’t not good enough. That argument, dismissed in April, drew verbal lashes from U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond, who called the litigation “stupid,” “reckless,” and “unnecessary,” reported The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“Dr. Stein has publicly announced that she seeks to promote election integrity,” the judge continued. But in reality, he argued, “she is only looking to promote herself,” adding that there was another benefit of her litigation “that would not have been conferred otherwise: the payment of $150,000 to Stein’s lawyers”.
Lawsuits in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were expensive. The litigation far exceeded the total legal fees of $1.75 million that the Stein campaign said it would need when collecting donations for the 2016 recount; the ongoing litigation would cost more than $150,000.
In 2016, the campaign also claimed that, rather than new lawsuits, after the recount, “all reimbursed state filing fees will be awarded to donor-designated organizations.” Those 2016-era refunds, from Michigan and Wisconsin, totaled more than $2.1 million.
—Dr. Jill Stein🌻 (@DrJillStein) December 20, 2016
Stein did not respond to a request for comment. Likewise, his campaign has gone dark: A website set up to provide updates on recount spending and election-related litigation is now down.
The campaign also went about 14 months without filing mandatory expense reports with the FEC, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in new fines. It wasn’t until Business Insider began investigating that the campaign broke its silence, revealing it had just under $83,000 in cash – and unpaid debts totaling more than $87,000, including 15 $000 owed to a media consultant and $16,800 to Hustle Inc., a phone-banking software company.
FEC press secretary Judith Ingram told Business Insider that by not filing its quarterly reports, the Stein campaign racked up $55,000 in fines between July 2019 and September 2020. In total, the Stein campaign s has been fined more than $124,000 since its 2016 recount, according to a tally provided by Ingram to Business Insider.
He now has an unpaid FEC bill over $66,000; a July 30 letter from the commission warns of further “civil sanctions, suspension of matching fund payments and audit, or enforcement action.”
Stein’s campaign staffers were paid $1.2 million
Stein’s 2016 campaign staff, on the other hand, appear to have been paid regularly — and rather generously. In December 2016, donors to the recount effort were told that the staff payroll would be no more than 3% of the money raised, or $212,500.
But Stein employees received more than five times that amount: through the end of 2019, nearly $1.2 million, according to campaign documents filed with the FEC.
Nearly a quarter of the promised payroll was handed out immediately, immediately after the recount fundraiser, when staff received a series of “performance bonuses” totaling $48,700.
David Cobb, Stein’s campaign manager, received a 60% raise after the election. In a 2018 email, he described his post-recount position, with an annual salary of $97,000, as overseeing ongoing litigation and supporting compliance with the FEC. In total, Cobb raised over $278,000 from November 2016 to December 2019.
Matt Kozlowski, Stein’s campaign finance manager, also received a pay raise: from $3,840 a month before the November 2016 election to $7,160 in the following months, a 54% raise that lasted until December 2019. His title: Chief Compliance Officer.
Kozlowski has a similar title, chief financial officer, at the Tenant Resource Center in Madison, Wisconsin, a position he held while raising more than $298,000 from Stein’s post-election campaign. Reached for comment, Kozlowski said he was “no longer employed by the campaign.”
Together, Cobb and Kozlowski earned more than $576,000, more than double the total salary costs initially promised to Stein’s donors.
—Dr. Jill Stein🌻 (@DrJillStein) December 17, 2016
Kozlowski and another Stein campaign worker, Dave Schwab, did more than just work for Stein’s presidential and recount campaigns. Each has also contributed blog posts to “Green Uprising,” a political action committee Stein launched in 2018. As the campaign acknowledged on its site, “The Jill Stein for President team is… now producing content under the name Green Uprising”.
Ingram, the FEC’s press secretary, said “payment to a staff member for work done for another federal committee could constitute an in-kind contribution to the recipient committee.” In other words, working for one committee while volunteering for another could be considered a gift, with time equaling money.
The group, which still accepts donations, now appears to be dormant, having never filed documents with the FEC. According to a FEC tutorial, PACs generally must register with the commission if they raise or spend more than $1,000.
Attempts to reach Stein were unsuccessful
Attempts to reach the Stein campaign were unsuccessful: email addresses listed on the 2016 campaign site bounced, and Stein herself did not respond to a message on Facebook. A spokesperson for the US Green Party also told Business Insider that they have reached out to Stein for comment. Stein is not running in the 2020 election.
It is unclear if or how Stein intends to pay the FEC fines. What is clear is that it is now too late to ask Stein’s recount donors how their money should be – or should have been – spent.
Erin Tibe, campaign finance attorney at Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, told Business Insider that the FEC will almost certainly never collect money for the sanctions it has imposed. Usually, she says, the commission simply shuts down a debtor campaign committee rather than trying to collect “fines that they can’t be forced to collect money to pay.”
What should the FEC do — get them to organize another fundraiser?
Political campaigns can also promise to raise money for one thing, like a recount, and spend it on another, like generous salaries and legal defense unrelated to the U.S. Senate.
“Candidates have a lot of flexibility on how excess campaign funds are used,” Tibe said. “There’s a catch-all for ‘any legitimate purpose’ as long as it’s not for the candidate’s personal use.”
Donors to a recount effort that largely stalled before it even began have no legal recourse. But they are angry.
“I’m very embarrassed and think he’s a charlatan,” said a woman who promoted Stein’s fundraiser on social media, asking that her name not be used for professional reasons. His identity is known to us.
“I was pretty freaked out about Trump becoming president and hanging on to the draws,” she told Business Insider. “I think she’s a scammer and I was a mark.”
Do you have a topical tip? Email this reporter: [email protected]