California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, 79, has been slapped with an FEC complaint after funneling $750,000 in campaign funds to her daughter since 2004 to manage a mailer program, as extensively detailed by the Free Beacon's Joe Schoffstall.
The scheme managed by Karen Waters has raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars from California politicians who pay to be included in her "slate mailers" - sample ballots mailed out to around 200,000 Los Angeles voters which promote who Waters endorses.
Since 2004, the campaign in turn reportedly has paid $750,000 to the congresswoman’s daughter, Karen Waters, or her public relations firm Progressive Connections for help producing them.
A government watchdog in July filed the first of two complaints with the Federal Election Commission asking for a full audit of the Citizens for Waters campaign. -Fox News
Waters, the California Democratic State Central Committee and Sen. Kamala Harris are all named in the first complaint. Of note, Harris is a likely 2020 Democratic presidential contender.
Legally, the payments are considered "reimbursements" for the state mailer, rather than a campaign contribution - which is currently limited to $2,700 to a candidate's committee and $5,000 to a PAC, so the mailer scheme is more or less a giant loophole.
“This certainly violates the spirit of campaign finance laws, but the FEC doesn’t seem to think it violates the letter of the law,” said John Wonderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan watchdog group that first reported on the practice by the Waters campaign in 2010 and the connection with her daughter.
“In this case, is it a question of enrichment for a family member?” Wonderlich added. “How much of the money passes through to cover postage and printing? It may be unsavory but not corrupt. Much of it hinges on the extent to which the money passes through.”
A second, broader complaint is currently being drafted by the conservative National Legal and Policy Center, which will focus on Waters' sources of funding as well as the mechanism by which her daughter has been so handsomely paid for running the mailer program.
'Maxine Waters found an old provision and turned it into a cottage industry.'
- Tom Anderson, National Legal and Policy Center
Waters is well versed in fundraising through mailers, while California's top Democrats and local office-seekers have funneled far in excess of legal contribution limits to her campaign in exchange for her endorsement, Fox reports. Waters' campaign pays Karen and other firms as part of the program, which the FEC approved in 2004.
Everything was going smoothly until the California Democratic Party paid $35,000 to the Waters campaign in 2016 for her endorsement of Kamala Harris' Senate candidacy on the mailer. Third parties are not legally allowed to pay for mailers endorsing a candidate without a reimbursement under the 2004 FEC approval, reads the complaint.
Another report shows that the Harris campaign paid $30,000 to Waters' campaign in early 2016 for a primary slate mailer, however no subsequent payments were made.
“The Democratic State Central Committee of California's $35,000 contribution to Citizens for Waters violated campaign finance limits” -FEC complaint
So far in the 2018 election cycle, Fox reports that as of July 28, Democrat Gavin Newsom's gubernatorial campaign has paid $27,000 to Waters' re-election campaign in exchange for inclusion in her mailers.
The state Democratic Party snubbed Sen. Dianne Feinstein this year, but she paid $27,000 and has the Waters endorsement. Candidates for state assembly, sheriff and judges paid between $2,000 and $12,000 to Citizens for Waters to be included on the mailers.
FEC data also shows as of July 28, Citizens for Waters paid Karen Waters $54,000 so far for the 2018 election cycle, mostly for slate mailers but also for other campaign work. The congressional campaign paid her $72,000 in the 2016 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics.
In November, Waters is facing Republican Omar Navarro, 29, a small business owner. The 79-year-old incumbent beat Navarro in 2016 with 76 percent of the vote, and outpaced him again in the June “jungle primary” (in which both parties can run) with 72 percent of the vote.
“She is going to be re-elected no matter what,” Anderson said. “She comes knocking and other politicians in California to say, ‘do you want my endorsement,’ because she knows they don’t want her opposing them.”
“If you don’t pay to be on her slate, then maybe you’re one of Trump’s people,” Anderson said. “A local politician, like a judge, does not want to be on her bad side.”