WASHINGTON — A Democratic congressman from Montgomery County accused his opponent Thursday of violating federal election rules by benefiting from a super PAC that is funded almost exclusively by her husband.
Rep. John Delaney, who is running for a third term, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission arguing that the unusual arrangement violates a prohibition on outside groups coordinating with a candidate. The group, Maryland USA, has spent about $1.5 million supporting Delaney's opponent, Republican Amie Hoeber.
Virtually all of the committee's money has come from a single donor: Mark Epstein, who is Hoeber's husband.
Super PACs may raise and spend unlimited sums of money, but they are barred from coordinating their spending with the candidates they support. That prohibition is in place to ensure candidates don't use super PACs to skirt donation limits that exist for campaigns.
"This super PAC funded by Amie Hoeber's husband has achieved national notoriety for the brazenness with which [it] has flouted the law," Delaney attorney Brian Svoboda said in a statement. "The facts leave no doubt that this super PAC was illegally established, was illegally financed and has illegally coordinated, and a prudent candidate would shut it down."
Hoeber described Delaney's claims as "completely fraudulent" and the complaint as a "desperate act by a desperate man."
"Our campaign activities have been vetted by one of the best political attorneys in the country," Hoeber said in a statement. "It shows that John Delaney is clearly worried — he can't defend his record so he depends on making baseless attacks."
With the Federal Election Commission often deadlocked over enforcement matters, the Delaney complaint is unlikely to advance, several experts said. But the complaint formally raises the question, brings media attention to the arrangement and signals Delaney is likely to harp on it during the campaign.
"It certainly merits investigation by the FEC," said Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at University of California, Irvine, who writes a popular blog on election law. "Although given the current deadlocked FEC...I wouldn't have much hope [it] will find [the] arrangement illegal, and certainly nothing before the election."
Officials with Maryland USA did not respond to a request for comment.
The complaint comes during what appears to be a substantial new television advertising effort launched this week by Maryland USA on Hoeber's behalf.
Delaney, a former banker who has spent millions of dollars of his own money on his political campaigns, is running in a district that was far more competitive in 2014 than many predicted. He beat Republican Dan Bongino that year by less than 3,000 votes.
The district includes heavily Democratic portions of Montgomery and Frederick counties as well as Western Maryland, a GOP stronghold.
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Republicans have touted Hoeber's chances in the 6th District partly because her own wealth could serve as a counter to Delaney's willingness to self-fund his campaign. Hoeber is a national security consultant and former deputy undersecretary of the Army.
Delaney's self-funding comes with a big advantage, though: Candidates pay a discounted rate for TV advertising, while third-party groups do not. That means Delaney can spend less money and reach more viewers because his advertising is purchased through his campaign.
Hoeber's campaign declined to answer questions Thursday about why Epstein is giving money to a super PAC rather than simply allowing Hoeber's campaign to draw on joint funds.
Epstein, a senior vice president at telecommunications giant Qualcomm, was initially listed as an assistant treasurer for Hoeber's campaign. The campaign later amended its filings to remove him from that role shortly before the super PAC began spending money.
The campaign and super PAC have shared the same pollster and voter file firms, according to Delaney's complaint. And the super PAC has produced ads that rely substantially on video produced by the campaign, Delaney alleges, including scenes in which Hoeber speaks directly to the camera.