JACKSON, Miss. — A nonpartisan group says in a complaint to the Federal Election Commission that a super PAC has been improperly organizing and funding activities for a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Mississippi.
The Washington-based Campaign Legal Center filed the complaint Monday against the Remember Mississippi super PAC and Chris McDaniel’s campaign fund. It asks the FEC to investigate.
Remember Mississippi raised nearly $1.1 million last year, with $500,000 coming from Richard Uihlein of Illinois, a packaging company executive who has donated to anti-union causes, and $500,000 from billionaire investor Robert Mercer of New York.
The super PAC takes its name from the slogan McDaniel supporters adopted after McDaniel, a tea-party backed state lawmaker, lost a bitter 2014 Republican primary to longtime U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, who was supported by the political establishment.
McDaniel — who frequently criticizes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky— said the campaign finance complaint is “frivolous” and “just another establishment dirty trick.”
“The complaint is completely bogus, just more fake news from the D.C. swamp,” McDaniel in a text message said after reading it.
The complaint says Remember Mississippi violated its certification as a super PAC by organizing and funding three campaign events that constituted “unreported and excessive in-kind contributions” to McDaniel. It said the events were fish fries in March 9 in Tupelo and March 10 Ellisville and a gathering March 11 at a church in Gulfport, all with McDaniel’s name and image on the invitations. It also says that at all three events, McDaniel appeared before a backdrop that had “McDaniel U.S. Senate 2018” in large letters and “Remember Mississippi” in smaller text.
“We’ve never seen a super PAC take the brazen step of organizing and funding straight-up campaign events for the candidate they are supporting,” Brendan Fischer, Campaign Legal Center’s director of federal and FEC reform, said in a statement. “Thanks to the FEC’s ineffective enforcement of the law, super PACs and campaigns have increasingly found ways to work closely with one another, but it appears this Mercer-backed super PAC went too far. If it wants candidates to take campaign laws seriously, the FEC must investigate and punish violators for wrongdoing.”
In a statement Monday, Remember Mississippi treasurer Tommy Barnett said: “The complaint is nonsense. We’re confident Remember Mississippi PAC has followed all applicable FEC laws and regulations for our activities.”
The complaint says that at the March 10 event, a representative of Remember Mississippi introduced McDaniel, solicited contributions for McDaniel’s campaign and asked people to get their friends, co-workers and families to support McDaniel. However, the man who introduced McDaniel there, Hal Marx, said Monday that he is not affiliated with or employed by the super PAC.
“I spoke as a private citizen and was not told what to say, or what not to say. Those words were my own,” said Marx, the mayor of Petal, Mississippi.
McDaniel told The Associated Press during a brief interview Monday at the state Capitol: “I’m confident there was no coordination. All I did — they told me a date and I showed up.”
McDaniel announced Feb. 28 that he would challenge Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, in this year’s party primary. Cochran, 80, announced days later that he is retiring April 1 because of poor health, and McDaniel said March 12 that he is switching to run in a special election for Cochran’s seat. McDaniel also asked Republican Gov. Phil Bryant to appoint him to temporarily succeed Cochran until the special election is held – an overture the governor swiftly rejected.
Bryant last week appointed Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith to fill the Senate seat. In the Nov. 6 special election, she will face McDaniel and at least one other candidate, Democrat Mike Espy, who was President Bill Clinton’s first secretary of agriculture. Special election candidates run without party labels, and a runoff, if needed, would be Nov. 27. The winner will fill the rest of the term, which expires in January 2021.
Barnett questioned why Campaign Legal Center did not file a federal complaint about how Hyde-Smith had previously spent some of her state campaign money.
Hyde-Smith responded: “If Chris McDaniel thinks he’s going to blame me for his campaign being accused of breaking the law, he’s going to be in for a long campaign.”
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .