FEC audit says GOP exceeded convention's spending limit Republican official calls accusation 'hair-splitting'

December 18, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Auditors for the Federal Election Commission contend that last year's Republican National Convention exceeded its legal spending limit by about $3.7 million in costs paid for by sources including the City of San Diego and the host committee.

The accusation is the latest example of how political parties continue to find imaginative, and potentially illegal, ways to funnel contributions from corporations and other sources. In years past, corporations had tried to display their clout by such moves as paying for expensive advertisements in convention brochures.

The Republican and Democratic parties were each given $12.4 million in federal money last year to pay for their conventions. But in newly released audits, lawyers for the election commission said that other GOP expenses for such items as identification badges and camera stands were paid for by the host committee -- a group of civic and business leaders -- and by the City of San Diego.

The host committee and the city were permitted to pay for some expenses, such as those for information booths about San Diego and decorations but not for direct costs of the event. The commission's auditors assert that the Republicans broke the rules and recommend that they return the money.

But Mike Collins, press secretary for the Republican National Committee, dismissed the findings as needless nitpicking.

"We're absolutely confident that when this thing goes through the FEC process," Collins said, "virtually all of these recommendations are going to be rejected because their interpretation is such hair-splitting."

Collins added, "No recommendation has been made that the Republican Party must return contributions, nor has the FEC staff alleged that the GOP illegally raised funds."

The City of San Diego took sharp issue with the auditors' conclusions and insisted in a detailed rebuttal that its actions were legal and appropriate.

The auditors' findings, which were confirmed by the commission's counsel, were presented to the FEC this month, but the panel is not expected to act on the findings until some time next year. Commission officials said they have not finished a comparable audit of spending by the Democratic Party at its national convention last year in Chicago.

The amount of money at issue in the GOP case is more than the $3 million in 1996 campaign contributions that the Democratic National Committee has returned because party officials said they might have been illegal or inappropriate.

Yet action by the commission may be another matter. It usually does not act on its auditors' recommendations until years after an election. Even then, the commission is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, and partisan splits often lead to deadlock.

In fact, when the commission took up the audits at a meeting this month, two Republicans and at least one Democrat expressed skepticism about the findings.

Pub Date: 12/18/97

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