Tom Kacich: Johnson fund faces possible fine
The "Friends of Tim Johnson" campaign fund missed the Federal Election Commission filing deadline for its April 15 quarterly report and faces a fine for doing so, according to Mark Shelden, the treasurer for the fund.
Johnson, a former Republican congressman from Urbana, still has a little more than $250,000 in his campaign fund. He retired from Congress in January, after withdrawing from his race for re-election in April 2012.
Because Johnson's campaign fund still has money and occasionally makes expenditures, it is required to file quarterly reports with the FEC.
A letter from the FEC's reports analysis division to Shelden, dated May 3, says that the Johnson campaign "may have failed to file" its quarterly report and warned that failure to file on time "may result in civil money penalties, an audit or legal enforcement action."
The report was filed on June 11.
Shelden, a former Champaign County clerk and later Johnson's chief of staff, took the blame for the missed deadline.
"We don't have any particularly good excuse other than we put in the wrong password and it didn't (get filed) and we didn't follow up," Shelden said. "I had another person working on it who I obviously didn't train too well, and I didn't follow up on their work."
FEC fines, he said, generally are based on the level of fundraising and spending activity by the committee, and since the Johnson committee raised no money and spent only $7,358, he said he expected it to be "pretty minimal.
"I don't know if it will be 1 percent of the activity, which would be something like 75 bucks, but I expect it will be something akin to that," Shelden said. "Now that the report is in they'll calculate and send us some notice. I don't know how long that will take."
Spending by the Johnson campaign in the first quarter this year included $250 to the Ford County Republican Party, $500 to the re-election committee of Parkland College board candidates James Ayers and Tom Bennett, and $1,000 to Johnson's daughter, Heather Stevenson, for what was described as organizing campaign files.
Meanwhile, Shelden acknowledged that he has been helping Erika Harold, the Urbana attorney who said earlier this month that she would challenge U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of Taylorville in the 13th Congressional District GOP primary next March.
"I'm just advising her and giving her helpful suggestions about names to call and telling her how to do this and how to do that," Shelden said. "Just today someone asked me if I was her campaign manager. I said no, but that I was giving her advice. I don't know how it's all going to work out although I would anticipate that at some point maybe I could officially start working on her campaign. Right now we're kinda looking at a budget."
Harold's campaign staff now includes all volunteers: her father, Bob Harold, and Shelden and Joan Dykstra, both former aides to Johnson.
"Right now her focus is on getting out to different events, and putting data together and starting to make calls to people to get support and to raise money," Shelden said.
Shelden also confirmed that he had worked for about a month on the staff of the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee, but quit when he began helping Harold.
"Back in April they put me on a contract to start working in May. We basically agreed when Erika started to run that, for a variety of reasons, that wasn't going to work very well," he said. "It was a very small, modest contract" to do political consulting.
It didn't take long for a big bucket of cold water to be tossed on the Harold campaign last week. Less than a week after she had announced, a poll of 1,178 likely Republican voters in the district found that she trailed Davis, 54 percent to 16 percent.
Also, more than 61 percent of those polled said they had never heard of Harold.
And while almost 21 percent of the likely GOP voters said they had never heard of Davis (they consider themselves likely voters but they don't know their congressman?), another 50.6 percent said they approve of him.
That means that of the Republican voters who know Davis, a big majority likes him. And that's a lot for Harold to overcome.
"I've never seen numbers like this turn around, absent some cataclysmic scandal. It just doesn't happen," said Gregg Durham of the We Ask America polling firm, which did the poll for the CapitolFax.com political website.
"If you had a guy who was in trouble or wasn't doing his job, it might be different," Durham said. "But the reports I'm hearing is that he's doing pretty well and that he's working his tail off."
And Harold has said she won't run a negative campaign, Durham noted.
"You put all that together and then (Harold) comes in but she says she's not going to be negative in what can be a very tough business where the thing that seemingly works best is to tear someone else down," Durham said. "I just don't think it's in her blood to be negative. This is not Phyllis Schlafly or Anne Coulter. She's not just a beauty queen but the queen of nice. I don't think she's predisposed for the kind of venomous personality it can take in a situation like this."
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.