Utah Republican Rep. Mia Love's campaign said Monday it would refund up to $10,000 in campaign contributions after admitting to improper fundraising for a primary that it knew was unlikely to happen, according to a letter sent by the campaign's lawyers to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
The documents, first published by CNN, show that Love's re-election campaign raised nearly $1.15 million for her re-election bid ahead of the June 26 primary this year. Under federal guidelines, candidates are not supposed to raise money for a primary if there is no challenger. Love ran unopposed this year.
"Since the candidate will not participate in the 2018 Primary election, any contribution received for this election must be returned to the donors or redesignated to another election," wrote Michael Dobi, a senior campaign finance analyst with the FEC.
Sasha Clark, Love's communications director, said Love would redesignate about $370,000 and may refund $10,000, but disputed CNN's reporting on the matter.
"The bias[sic] numbers reported by CNN are grossly exaggerated," Clark said in a statement.
The admission comes as Love faces an increasingly contentious race in her re-election bid for Utah's 4th Congressional District against Democrat Ben McAdams. Both campaigns have accused the other of violating campaign finance law, but this is the first action taken by election officials, who review all spending and fundraising by federal candidates.
Ben McAdams, Love's opponent, seized on the FEC report with a press conference at his campaign headquarters on Monday afternoon.
"It's clear that Mia Love's intention was to game the system. Utahns deserve better than another Washington politician that thinks that the law doesn't apply to them," said McAdams, calling on Love to return the entire sum raised during that period.
The report is likely to add fuel to what has become a statistical dead heat between Love and McAdams. The most recent poll, released Friday by UtahPolicy.com, shows McAdams trailing by just 3 points behind Love, 46 to 49 percent.
Love's lawyers said they would refund or redesignate at least a portion of contributions she received after April 21, when it was clear she was running unopposed.
But her counsel said several factors made it uncertain whether Love would face a challenger, including infighting by the Utah Republican Party over the state's dual pathway to the ballot.
"Representative Love's decision whether to move forward with collecting signatures was further informed by, and complicated by, an internal party dispute in which a faction of the state party sought to force candidates to use only the convention process," wrote Love's counsel.
Love's counsel said under Utah's candidate selection process, a person could have filed a signature petition through April 7, two weeks before the April 21 GOP convention where Love secured the nomination.
The last day for a person to declare their candidacy via petition was March 15, according to Utah's elections office, meaning the only other challenger Love could have faced after that date was a write-in candidate.