WASHINGTON – Shaughnessy Naughton has called on her Democratic primary opponent, Kevin Strouse, to explain a series of donations apparently exchanged between his parents and the parents of other Democratic Congressional candidates around the country, saying they violated the spirit of campaign finance laws, if not the laws themselves.
“There’s a lot of unanswered questions here and I think we deserve answers,” Naughton said Wednesday morning in a conference call with reporters. “At best this is a bizarre scheme. At worst it was a coordinated effort to circumvent campaign finance limits – that should be troubling.”
Naughton, running against Strouse in a primary for a Bucks County-based seat, arranged the call in response to an Inquirer story Monday that showed that Strouse’s parents, after giving the maximum allowed to their son, then sent donations to eight other Democratic House candidates in states such as California, Colorado, Illinois and Florida.
In four instances, the parents of those candidates sent almost identical amounts to Strouse's campaign, usually days before or after the Strouse parents’ contributions. In every case, the parents had already given the maximum to their son or daughter.
“I was troubled by this bizarre scheme of parents swapping contributions all over the country,” Naughton said Wednesday.
She said she wanted to give Strouse time to respond, but he and his campaign have so far not commented, despite several requests Monday and Tuesday.
“I think the people of the eighth deserve answers to some questions … I know I’m troubled by the article.”
Naughton said Strouse should explain what he knew about the donations and when, and if he approved of them. She asked if there was “an express understanding among the parents involved” and if the Strouse campaign was involved. “Was there a quid pro quo?” she asked.
Naughton and Strouse are in the final week of their primary race, which concludes Tuesday. After a largely civil campaign, Naughton has turned more aggressive in the race's final days. She said Wednesday that voters deserve answers on the parents' donations before the primary.
“If it turns out this was a concerted effort to violate or circumvent campaign finance limits, Kevin should return the money … it certainly appears to violate the spirit of the law if not the law itself," she said.
Two campaign finance experts contacted by the Inquirer have said the donations appear legal, and that even if there was an agreement among the parents, they would still be allowed.
A former Federal Election Commission general counsel, however, said the contributions might amount to an “end run” around campaign finance limits and could be illegal if they were coordinated. A fourth campaign finance lawyer said the donations could be “problematic” if there was an express agreement to trade donations, though most civil and criminal prosecutions for campaign donations involve people donating someone else’s money in their own names.
In this case, the parents appear to have contributed their own money.
“Frankly if it’s not illegal, it certainly seems like it should be,” Naughton said. “Working on campaign finance will be a priority of mine in Washington.”
Asked if her parents had engaged in any similar donations, Naughton laughed.
“My mother was a cleaning lady. She could not possibly have the ability to do anything like that,” she said.
Neither Strouse, his parents, the other parents involved nor the other Democratic campaigns have answered questions to explain how parents in far-flung states came to give to one another’s children.
Kevin Strouse's parents, Robert and Norma Strouse, had never before made federal donations outside of Pennsylvania.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is backing Strouse and the other candidates involved, offered a two-sentence statement Monday and no further comment Tuesday. Each of the candidates involved are among Democrats’ top priority challengers or incumbents – a list that includes more than 40 races and is designed to encourage support for candidates in the most competitive House contests.
“As the top tier pickup opportunities in the country, these races generate tremendous enthusiasm from our allies and candidates' own networks," the DCCC said Monday.
Strouse's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.