Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Case of the Disappearing FEC Reports

Old habits die hard and so last Saturday afternoon I found myself perusing the FEC website, to see if anyone had posted the end of year reports, due the end of January, early. No one had. Pre- and post-general reports were there and provided some entertainment / educational value. The easiest way to do this is to go to and view the electronic filings.

A few things really struck me. One is that Mark Cohen’s old congressional campaign committee, started when he contemplated running for Congress in 2004 and still hanging around, is not listed as having filed a report for the quarter ending in October. I’d done some checking via back channels about missing reports (see next paragraph) and someone suggested looking at the “view images of all financial reports” function. Sure enough, there was a pdf copy of a letter from the FEC telling Cohen’s treasurer that they were no longer obligated to file reports until they received or spent money. I don’t know why this wasn’t posted with the electronic filings. Just viewing the list of electronic filings it would be easy to assume that a report had not been filed.

Another thing that really surprised me was the absence of reports that used to be listed with electronic filings. I have reviewed quarterly FEC reports for the suburban Philadelphia congressional campaigns for some time now and am familiar with committee names, what sort of reports they file, etc. So, imagine my surprise when the reports for the Republican candidate for the 13th congressional district didn’t appear. Not under the candidates first name. Not under the candidate’s last name. To be double extra sure I printed out a list of all the electronic reports available for Pennsylvania house races. Do not do this at home – it is 120 pages long. No reports for the 2008 GOP candidate for the 13th district. They used to be there. I reviewed them a number of times. But they are gone now. That’s just plain strange.

Reports for the 2006 GOP candidate for that district are all there. There were three primary candidates for the GOP congressional lost in 2004. Their reports are available electronically. Reports for a Democratic candidate who lost in the 2004 primary are available. Reports from a Democratic candidate for the 7th congressional district who withdrew from the race in 2006 are available. Reports from all four Democratic candidates for the 2006 8th congressional district race are available.

Tapping a few people who know more about these things than I do someone suggested checking the reports filed on paper, the “view images of all financial reports” option. Sure enough, all of the reports for the 2008 GOP candidate for the 13th congressional district are all there. However, they have been removed from the electronic reports list. I have never seen that done before.

Looking at the pdf copy of the latest report, a termination report dated 11/24/08 is difficult going. The print is small. The pages are hard to read. It is slow going. However it does appear that the candidate repaid herself for three loans of $95,000 each. There is a $15,000 loan that she appears to have forgiven; that loan also from her personal funds. The interest rate is floating but it looked like she paid herself some interest on the loans. There are also a handful of in-kind donations from the candidate. I’m not well-versed enough in FEC arcane to grasp what, if any, significance all this has.

What I do know for certain is that the FEC reports for this campaign used to be available in the easier to read, easier to use, electronic files and now all of them have been pulled. The only access is the more cumbersome pdf files.

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