Burgess Owens Pushes Back on NYT Story About Excessive Campaign Donations

4th Congressional District Republican candidate Burgess Owens speaks during an Utah Debate Commission debate against Democratic Utah Congressman Ben McAdams on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (Kristin Murphy/ Deseret News, via AP, Pool)
Kristin Murphy/ Deseret News, via AP

Burgess Owens, the Republican candidate for Utah’s Fourth Congressional District, is pushing back against a recent story by the New York Times suggesting his campaign took more than $135,000 in illegal political contributions.

On Tuesday, the Times published a story reporting that Owens had accepted campaign donations that were above the legal limit of $2,800 that is set by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The donations in question were made to Owens’ campaign from a bevy of donors dating back to July of this year. In total, the excess contributions amounted to nearly $135,000—which as the Times noted is nearly 40 percent of the cash on hand the candidate has heading into Election Day.

“Such violations can come with fines in the tens of thousands of dollars, and can cast a cloud over campaigns,” the Times reported, adding that that “the issue could prove particularly thorny for Mr. Owens, who has touted his fund-raising abilities and is in a deadlocked race.”

What the paper failed to mention in its reporting, however, is that Owens’ campaign noted on its FEC filings that the excessive donations were over the legal limit and that it was waiting for further information from the donors before acting. FEC guidelines prescribe two different remedies for such a situation.

First, the donor, upon being contacted by the campaign can choose to reallocate the excessive amount to another member of their household, provided that person isn’t over the limit as well. The donor can also choose to designate the excessive contribution to another election the candidate is running in, this is usually the case for primary and general election campaigns, for which the contribution limit is $2,800 respectively.

If the campaign receiving the excess contribution chooses not to follow such a course, the second option is to simply issue a full refund for any amount over $2,800 that is donated. Owens’ campaign, according to its FEC filings, has already refunded more than $82,500 in excessive contributions.

FEC guidelines give campaigns approximately 60 days to rectify via reallocation or refund excessive contributions. While some of the contributions in question are older than 60 days, Owens campaign told Breitbart News that it had returned or reallocated most of the money and there was less than $15,000 remaining in excess donations. The campaign is currently waiting for further information from the donors before reallocating the money or issuing refunds.

Jesse Ranney, the campaign’s director of communications, told Breitbart News the excess contributions resulted from Owens’ success in online fundraising.

“We had nearly 50,000 donors in the last quarter, which is easily a quarterly record for Utah, most filing online,” Ranney said. “It’s extremely common for spouses to donate a max for both and neglect one name, or someone unfamiliar with FEC regulations to donate an amount exceeding the limit.”

“So campaigns reallocate to the spouse and then refund,” he added. “The New York Times, I have no doubt knows and understands this but ran an article six days before the election giving cover to unfriendly press.”

According to Ranney, none of the remaining excess contributions are viewed by the campaign as usable ahead of the upcoming election.

The Times singled out Owens’ campaign for the excess contribution, even though his Democrat opponent, incumbent Rep. Ben McAdams, had himself accepted donations above the legal limit in the past.

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