FACT CHECK: Did Obama’s 2008 Campaign Pay The Largest FEC Fine Ever?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

Conservative commentator Bill Mitchell claimed on Twitter that former President Barack Obama’s campaign paid the single-largest fine in Federal Election Commission (FEC) history.

“Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign paid the largest single fine to the FEC for campaign finance violations in history. Why didn’t anyone go to jail?” reads the Dec. 9 tweet.

Verdict: True

In 2012, Obama’s campaign agreed to pay an administrative fine of $191,135 for a campaign finance violation committed during the 2008 presidential election. It also paid $183,865 in civil penalties, for a total of $375,000 in violations. This is the largest administrative fine ever issued by the FEC, but not the largest civil penalty.

Administrative fines are handed out for technical violations, while civil penalties stem from enforcement actions that sometimes involve formal FEC investigations.

Fact Check:

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s one-time lawyer, was recently sentenced to three years in prison, partly for a “hush money” payment arranged to Stormy Daniels, the porn star who alleges she had an affair with Trump back in 2006. Prosecutors said the payment, made in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election, was designed to influence the outcome and thus amounted to an illegal campaign contribution in violation of FEC rules.

With many saying that Trump himself may be implicated in the violations, Mitchell took to Twitter to claim that Obama’s campaign paid the single-largest FEC fine in history.

FEC records show that Obama’s 2008 campaign, “Obama for America,” was hit with a record-breaking $191,135 administrative fine, more than five times larger than the next largest fine.

Administrative fines are levied for less serious, more routine matters involving the late or non-filing of reports and are calculated using a formula, according to the FEC. The administrative fine system was first authorized in 2000 in an attempt to streamline the processing of technical violations, allowing the FEC to focus on higher priority matters.

The Obama campaign’s fine was issued after it failed to report 1,266 last-minute campaign contributions, totaling $1.9 million, in a timely manner. This violated an FEC rule that stipulates that a campaign must report all contributions over $1,000 received less than 20 days but more than 48 hours before an election.

In a 2012 conciliatory agreement between the Obama campaign and the FEC, the campaign agreed to pay the administrative fine and an additional civil penalty of $183,865 for two other violations: not returning in a timely fashion $1.4 million in contributions that exceeded the $2,300 per person limit and misreporting the receipt dates for $85.2 million in contributions received through its joint fundraising efforts. The two amounts combined totaled $375,000.

“The 2008 campaign was a record-breaking campaign with over 3 million grass-roots donors,” Katie Hogan, a spokeswoman for the campaign, told The Washington Post at the time. “The very few outstanding questions have now all been resolved.”

Civil penalties result from enforcement actions and sometimes involve FEC investigations. In 2006, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, also known as Freddie Mac, agreed to pay a $3.8 million civil penalty for improperly making and facilitating campaign contributions – the largest civil penalty ever paid to the FEC.

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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