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Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 U.S. Senate campaign entered into a dispute resolution program with the FEC regarding some finance contributions that were prohibited or in excess of federal limits. The campaign paid a civil penalty of $5,900 and terminated the political committee, FEC documents show.
The FEC has civil, not criminal, jurisdiction. O’Rourke was not criminally charged, as the post suggests.
An old claim about campaign contributions to Beto O'Rourke's 2018 U.S. Senate campaign has resurfaced in a popular Facebook post.
The post, formatted as a timeline, makes allegations of illegal actions by gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke. It reads:
"1995 Burglary arrest
"1998 Driving while intoxicated (DWI)
"2006 Eminent domain ethics violation complaint
"2014 Illegal Twitter stock purchase
"2018 FEC Charges illegal campaign contributions"
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
We and other fact-checkers already looked into several of these claims.
O'Rourke was arrested in 1990s for burglary and DWI, claims we previously rated True.
In 2006, an attorney filed two ethics complaints against O’Rourke, then an El Paso City Council member, in a matter that involved eminent domain. But both complaints were dismissed by the city’s ethics commission.
O’Rourke has never been charged with insider trading. But, as Snopes found, he reported himself to the House Ethics Committee after a news site reported that he’d purchased Twitter stock in its 2013 initial public offering, in violation of a then-new 2012 law designed to stop insider trading.
This time, we wanted to take a closer look at the claim about his campaign contributions.
In short, it’s misleading.
FEC did review and flag O’Rourke’s campaign contributions in 2018, but the language in this post suggests he was charged with a crime. And that’s not what happened.
PolitiFact Texas reached out to the current O'Rourke campaign. Chris Evans, communications director, wrote, "No, the FEC did not charge Beto or our senate campaign for illegal campaign contributions."
Evans noted the FEC conducts reviews of finance reports and routinely requests additional details from campaigns. "In this case, the FEC asked a common question about a few donations from individuals with foreign addresses and contributions exceeding the federal limit," Evans said. "The donations that had foreign addresses attached to them were made by U.S. citizens who were living overseas at the time, which is permissible. Any contributions above the federal limit were refunded to the contributors as is a common practice in federal races."
Christian Hilland, deputy press officer at the Federal Election Commission, said in an Aug. 24 email that the Commission has civil jurisdiction over federal campaign finance law and reviews issues for enforcement case by case. For example, if there is a violation, a campaign could receive a letter reminding it of compliance obligations or be ordered to pay a monetary penalty.
"Since this agency has civil jurisdiction, it doesn’t include the word 'charge' or 'charges' as part of its enforcement vocabulary," Hilland wrote.
In autumn 2018, when O'Rourke ran and lost against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, claims that the FEC made "charges" circulated on social media. The Associated Press debunked this in October 2018 and reported the claim stemmed from a September 2018 FEC letter that lists several contributions from people abroad and contributions that exceed federal contribution limits.
That letter requested more information about reported finances and pointed out issues so that the campaign can refund excessive contributions. O'Rourke's campaign had formally responded to this letter to say the contributions from abroad were from people with valid U.S. passports and to address the other points listed in the FEC's letter.
That was not the only time O'Rourke's Senate campaign received requests for additional information about finances.
The campaign received other Requests for Additional Information letters about other reporting periods, such as the October 2018 Quarterly Report and the 2018 30-Day Post-General Report, with an Oct. 18 to Nov. 26, 2018, reporting period.
The campaign entered negotiations in the FEC's Alternative Dispute Resolution Program. It refunded $78,000 that had been contributed in excess of federal limits outside the FEC's prescribed 60-day time period. Separately, it also had not refunded an additional $200 reported from three other reporting periods. That $200 was ultimately refunded, according to a May 2020 letter from the campaign.
The FEC described this program as "an informal means for resolving matters that come before the Commission." According to the documents, the O'Rourke Senate campaign said the reason it was so difficult to manage funds was because of "the unprecedented number of contributions" it was receiving. O'Rourke had received a record-breaking level of contributions.
The campaign ultimately agreed to close its federal account, terminate its political committee status and reporting obligations, and pay a civil penalty of $5,900. The commission agreed to this settlement in May 2021. The FEC received a payment of $5,900 on June 3, 2021. The campaign filed for termination in July 2021 and the FEC notified it had accepted the filing in August 2021.
PolitiFact fact-checked two other related claims mentioned in that Facebook post, including a claim pertaining to O'Rourke driving while intoxicated in 1998 (Mostly True) and a claim regarding eminent domain and ethics violations pertaining to construction (Half True). The latter claim pertains to O'Rourke's father-in-law's involvement in an El Paso redevelopment initiative while O'Rourke was a city council member. PolitiFact reported O'Rourke had abstained from key votes pertaining to eminent domain, and El Paso's city ethics commission had dismissed two ethics complaints alleging conflict of interest against O'Rourke.
A Facebook post presented several claims regarding O'Rourke, including that in 2018 "FEC charges Illegal Campaign Contributions."
An FEC spokesperson said the commission has civil, not criminal, jurisdiction and does not "charge" campaigns or candidates in its enforcement. The O'Rourke campaign refunded most of the contributions at issue, albeit late, and refunded $200 while in negotiations for a settlement with the FEC. Beto for Texas paid a civil penalty of $5,900 in June 2021.
The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.
Facebook post, Aug. 14, 2022
Paul J. Weber, The Associated Press, "Not Real News: Beto O'Rourke not 'slapped' with FEC charges," Oct. 11, 2018
Emails from Christian Hilland, Federal Election Commission Deputy Press Officer, Aug. 24 and Aug. 25, 2022
Letter from the Federal Election Commission to Beto for Texas, Aug. 3, 2021
Settlement Agreements with Beto For Texas, May 19, 2021 (ADR Case #957)
ADR Memoranda, Notifications Responses: Reports Analysis Division Referral to Alternative Dispute Resolution Office, Jan. 24, 2020 (ADR Case #957)
ADR Memoranda, Notifications Responses: Informational Memo on Assignment, Jan. 31, 2020 (ADR Case #957)
ADR Memoranda, Notifications Responses: Notification to Beto for Texas and Gwendolyn Pulido, Treasurer, Feb. 10, 2020 (ADR Case #957)
ADR Memoranda, Notifications: Commitment to Submit Matter to ADR Program and Statement of Designation of Representative/Counsel, Feb. 27, 2020
ADR Memoranda, Notifications Responses: Recommendation to Approve Negotiated Settlement, June 10, 2020
Jonathan Tilove, Austin American-Statesman, "O'Rourke sets Senate fundraising record," Oct. 12, 2018
FEC Form 99 submission by Beto for Texas, May 22, 2020
Email from Chris Evans, communications director at Beto For Texas, Aug. 29, 2022
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