WASHINGTON – Election officials are recommending that Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton (search) receive $100,000 in federal matching funds (search) -- and be the subject of an investigation into whether he deserves the money.
The mixed recommendation by lawyers for the Federal Election Commission (search) will be presented to the six commissioners Thursday for a likely vote, after an internal back-and-forth over whether the outspoken reverend may have violated campaign finance rules.
Sharpton's campaign manager, Charles Halloran, said: "We stand behind everything we've done and every document we've submitted. We welcome a full audit. It's part of the political process."
At issue are loans and out-of-pocket payments made by Sharpton, the activist preacher, to Sharpton, the candidate. The New Yorker's campaign is low on cash and is carrying heavy debts, but FEC rules prohibit federal matching funds to any candidate who loans his own campaign more than $50,000.
Steve Weissman, of the Campaign Finance Institute (search), a nonpartisan, nonprofit institute affiliated with George Washington University (search) that conducts research and makes recommendations for policy change in campaign finance, said: "It's good news for him in the sense that some money is flowing in, and I guess some of it might even go to Mr. Sharpton's credit card. It's not good news that they are still recommending some form of investigation."
In reviewing Sharpton's FEC filings, auditors found Sharpton is owed $47,821.13 in loans or debts outstanding for more than 60 days. At the end of the 2003 filing period, Sharpton claimed he was owed an additional $53,981.25, but the auditors said they could not determine if any of that debt was outstanding for more than 60 days.
"A question exists as to whether Rev. Sharpton has exceeded his personal expenditure limitation," the audit staff wrote. "The evidence is not sufficient to recommend an initial determination that matching fund eligibility be denied; however, it appears that a further review of this matter is warranted."
Initially, the audit committee recommended Sharpton be granted $100,000 in matching loans, but the agency took a second look after a member of the six-member commission complained that Sharpton "may be committing a major violation of law," according to an agency memorandum.
In re-examining the records, auditors discovered "information suggesting that the candidate may have exceeded the amount of personal funds that he could expend on behalf of his committee" but also said there is no definitive evidence that such a violation occurred.
The second review ultimately led to the same recommendation from FEC lawyers.