By Andrew Clevenger
WASHINGTON — The Democratic Party of Oregon waded into the GOP Senate primary battle Monday, asking the Federal Election Commission to investigate whether Stimson Lumber CEO Andrew Miller’s political action committee illegally coordinated with Portland pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby’s Senate campaign.
Miller, who is purported to be dating Wehby, is one of two major donors to “If He Votes Like That In Salem Imagine What He Will Do In Congress,” a political action committee that has attacked Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, for his votes related to the Affordable Care Act. Under campaign law, PACs making independent expenditures cannot coordinate their activities with the official campaign.
Wehby and Conger are the GOP frontrunners for the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., in November’s general election.
In the filing, Oregon Democratic Party chairman Frank Dixon notes that Miller has commented publicly on behalf of the PAC, and has also helped fundraise for Wehby’s campaign as one of the hosts of an April 30 fundraiser.
“It is implausible that, in the course of his involvement with Wehby and the campaign, he has not been exposed to nonpublic information about the campaign’s nonpublic plans, projects, activities and needs,” the complaint states. “Accordingly, there is substantial evidence If He Votes knowingly made, and Wehby knowingly accepted, prohibited and excessive contributions.”
Wehby campaign manager Charlie Pearce flatly denied any impropriety by the Wehby campaign.
“Our campaign has not coordinated with this group in any way. Anyone suggesting otherwise is making a false accusation,” he said.
Pearce said he could not clarify the nature of the relationship between Wehby and Miller.
Miller contributed $5,200, the maximum allowable amount, to Wehby’s campaign in November 2013, according to FEC filings. He also gave the “If He Votes” PAC $25,000 plus an additional $5,950 of in-kind billboard advertising, filings show.
Reached on Monday, Conger said he wasn’t surprised that the “If He Votes” PAC’s activities, which he called “absurd, false and misleading,” had resulted in an FEC complaint, but he has no plans to file one himself.
The PAC’s actions will give Democrats ammunition to use against whoever wins, he said.
“When these kind of actions are taken by those associated with Republican campaigns, it makes it harder for those of us who are trying to be open and honest,” he said. “It can further undermine the public’s confidence in the fairness or the legitimacy of the political system, of our elections.”
Coordination, Conger said, doesn’t mean that Miller told Wehby what he planned to do through the PAC.
If there was awareness of “campaign strategy, polling information and messaging” between the campaign and the PAC, that could constitute coordination, he said.
“It’s hard to imagine that coordination didn’t exist,” he said.
After a relatively quiet first few months of the year, outside groups have begun to make quite a few independent expenditures in the GOP primary in recent weeks. Last month, newrepublican.org, an Alexandria, Va.-based organization founded by Alex Castellanos, a political consultant who supported George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, bought $195,000 in television and radio ads supporting Wehby. The group also spent $40,000 on online advertising.
Since the end of March, Oregon Right to Life PAC has made multiple media buys supporting Conger, including tens of thousands on radio ads and more than $46,000 on a pro-Conger mailing.
Wehby has proved a better fundraiser, collecting almost $582,000 during the first three months of 2014. As of April 15, her campaign had almost $742,000 in cash on hand.
Conger raised almost $64,000 during the first quarter of 2014, and now has $89,450 cash on hand, according to FEC filings.
Oregon Democratic state chairman Dixon said Wehby and Miller are making a mockery of the campaign finance system, and called for an investigation by the FEC.
“Starting a Super PAC for someone you are romantically involved with and feigning ignorance of her campaign strategy and denying coordination is brazen, to say the least,” said Dixon in a prepared statement. “To claim there’s no coordination when a major funder of the Super PAC is hosting campaign fundraisers is unbelievable.”
— Reporter: 202-662-7456, email@example.com