Jill Stein is flush with cash left over from both her 2016 Green Party presidential campaign, and a subsequent vote recount effort.
But Stein has yet to use a dime of it to clear about $53,000 in outstanding fines levied on her campaign for habitually submitting financial disclosures after federal deadlines, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission records indicates.
Stein, who captured 1.1 percent of the presidential vote two years ago—about 1.42 million votes nationally—used public matching funds to help bankroll her campaign and has long been an advocate of strict campaign finance laws.
So has the Green Party. Its 2016 party platform calls for aggressive measures to strengthen election money laws and compel compliance, including, “Replace the Federal Election Commission with a vigorous watchdog empowered to enforce federal campaign finance laws.”
Why, then, hasn’t the Stein campaign, which last month reported having about $164,000 in reserve after subtracting debts and loans, paid any of its nine outstanding FEC fines, six of which are overdue?
The oldest Stein fine is from February 2015, the most recent from November, according to FEC records. Two are five-figure penalties: a $14,587 fine from November 2017 and an $11,162 fine from October 2018, both past the FEC’s 40-day payment deadline. (Stein’s 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns have paid off nine separate fines totaling about $30,000.)
Asked about their scofflaw status, the Stein campaign basically said it’s racking up fines faster than it can manage to deal with them.
“The campaign typically considers these kinds of items collectively, which can cause delay while awaiting the documentation from more recent penalties,” Stein spokesman David Schwab said. “Given our limited staff and operations under these kinds of activity, it can further delay the process while staff is tasked with other responsibilities.”
Schwab also asserted that the FEC uses inadequate campaign finance software, which has caused the campaign to routinely file overdue campaign finance reports—and trigger FEC fines for tardiness.
The FEC makes free disclosure software, known as FECFile, available to smaller campaigns that don’t have industrial-strength accounting operations. But this software comes with “technical issues that create serious obstacles,” Schwab said.
Pressed for specifics, the Stein campaign said the software was slow, would freeze or contain other glitches. It called on Congress to better fund the FEC so it could develop better software.
FEC commissioners countered in a joint statement that the agency’s software is “equipped to handle the committee’s reporting needs, as many high-dollar and high-volume committees successfully use FECFile to file their reports.” The commission also noted that the agency’s Reports Analysis Division and Electronic Filing Office are available to provide assistance to the Stein campaign—or any political committee—experiencing technical difficulties.
So, when will the Stein campaign pay?
“We expect to make payment before the end of the year,” Schwab said.
FEC Chairwoman Caroline Hunter, a Republican, urged Stein to hurry up.
“Certainly, we’re very interested in her paying fines, and we hope she pays the fine in short order,” Hunter said.
FEC Vice Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, declined to comment.
The FEC’s power to force payment of outstanding fines is limited.
A Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal data last year revealed that more than 160 political committees and similar groups had simply ignored efforts by the FEC and the U.S. Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service to collect on more than $1.3 million in fines combined—with little or no recourse.
The federal government rarely sues scofflaw political committees or otherwise takes further action against them when they don’t pay fines levied by the FEC, a six-member, bipartisan body that serves as the civil enforcer and regulator of campaign finance laws. Generally, the cost of collection efforts begins to quickly eclipse the fines themselves.
During late 2017 and early 2018, the Stein campaign simply didn’t file required monthly campaign finance reports at all—not doing so until June.
The missed filings prevented the public from knowing how the Stein campaign was spending some of the several millions of dollars it raised toward a vote recount effort immediately after the 2016 election, in which Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by narrow margins in several states.
A multi-state vote recount never materialized, with a lone completed recount in Wisconsin adding to Trump’s vote total. Stein’s campaign kept the money anyway, and to this day, continues paying staff and funding other expenses, though Stein is not actively running for any office.
Stein hasn’t categorically ruled out a presidential run in 2020, but said earlier this year that she isn’t planning on seeking the Green Party’s presidential nomination for a third time (she also ran in 2012).
Asked if Stein has changed her mind since, Schwab referred back to Stein’s previous comment.