Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s campaign has agreed to pay a fine and return some $3,300 in contributions over a dispute with a political group that supported his opponent in last year’s Democratic Senate primary.
Emily's List, the women's group that backed former Rep. Donna Edwards' campaign for Senate, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission in 2015, alleging Van Hollen’s campaign used the group’s finance reports to identify potential donors – which is prohibited.
The group, which spent heavily on Edwards’ campaign, had sent a solicitation to donors in 11 states that incorrectly identified Van Hollen as a Republican. Van Hollen’s campaign responded by sending a letter to Emily’s List’s donors correcting the error.
Though the letter itself did not request a donation, the correspondence included a return envelope with a solicitation form.
Van Hollen’s campaign raised $3,350 from that solicitation, according to the FEC. The former congressman went on to win the April primary by 25 points, as well as the November election.
Campaigns are generally prohibited from relying on others' disclosure reports to identify potential supporters. One exception, which Emily's List had acknowledged at the time, is to correct inaccurate information. But the group took issue with the Van Hollen campaigns’ decision to solicit campaign cash while it was setting the record straight.
As part of a conciliation agreement, the Van Hollen campaign will pay a civil penalty of $2,100 and contribute $3,350 to the U.S. Treasury. The agreement notes the commission found no evidence Van Hollen personally violated FEC regulations.
“This started when Emily’s List sent a fundraising email to their members that falsely identified Senator Van Hollen as a Republican while he was in the throes of a contentious Democratic primary,” Bridgett Frey, a Van Hollen spokeswoman, said in a statement.
“The campaign could have continued to contest the complaint, but the primary ended almost a year ago, the dollar amounts involved were very small, and Senator Van Hollen himself was not a respondent. Instead, the campaign chose voluntarily to settle the complaint and move forward,” she said.