FEC Continues Audit of Presidential Campaigns

The Federal Election Commission on Thursday said former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan could use taxpayer dollars to award $70,000 in bonuses to his campaign staff, including $20,000 to his sister.

The FEC made that ruling as part of the commission's 5-1 vote to approve an audit of Buchanan's publicly financed 2000 presidential campaign. The audit required that Buchanan reimburse the government for $68,033 for minor spending irregularities.

Under FEC rules, campaigns can pay bonuses if they are part of a pre-election contract. The commission's newest member, Democrat Ellen Weintraub, opposed the bonuses because she said no such contract existed. But the other commissioners said a pre-election memo from Buchanan outlining proposed bonuses was sufficient.

The FEC also voted to scale back the amounts auditors had recommended be repaid to the government by the campaigns of President Bush and Democrat Al Gore.

The commission directed the Bush campaign to repay $224,518, far less than the $723,176 sought by auditors. The FEC rejected the auditors' call for reimbursement of $498,658 in phone bank costs.

The FEC directed Gore's primary campaign to repay $137,894, reducing the $372,245 sought by auditors. The commission allowed the campaign to count more costs as primary, rather than general, election expenses.

The FEC also ordered Gore's general election campaign to repay $3,262.

The campaigns were audited because they received federal matching funds. Gore took public financing for both his primary and general election campaigns. Bush accepted it only for the general election campaign.

The FEC agreed with auditors that taxpayers should pay $382,996 to reimburse the privately financed Bush recount fund for some staff salaries and overhead. The auditors said those expenses were unrelated to the recount effort and should be treated as post election costs covered by the campaign. Bush campaign officials said they may challenge that finding.