INDIANAPOLIS – As a late entry into the governor’s race, Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb had counted on – even bragged about – the financial support he would receive from Gov. Mike Pence.
But federal campaign finance rules are putting that support in jeopardy as it appears a large chunk of Pence’s $7.5 million war chest is not in play.
Holcomb was chosen Monday morning to be the GOP nominee for governor because Pence is running for vice president.
Jim Bopp, a GOP attorney and campaign finance expert, initially told The Journal Gazette that state law has no prohibitions on Pence giving his campaign dollars to other state races, and federal law doesn’t apply. But after reviewing several Federal Election Commission advisory opinions he clarified.
"I still think generally what I said was true but obviously there are complications that I’ll be working through. I’ll do my best to figure it out," Bopp said.
He has been asked by the Indiana Republican Party to look into the legal questions involved.
Basically, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 would treat Pence as a state-turned-federal candidate and restrict how he can spend any money that doesn’t comply with federal limits. There is a federal $2,700 per election, per donor limit. So anything given to Pence above that amount might not be eligible to be forwarded onto Holcomb.
Jonathan Berkon, attorney at Perkins Coie representing the Democratic Governors Association, said for instance if someone gave Pence $100,000, only $2,700 of that would be permissible to give to pass along.
A large chunk of Pence’s contributions appear to be above the $2,700 limit since state law has few if any similar limitations.
Berkon said usually "there is a lot of gray and disagreement" on campaign finance questions but in this situation there are bipartisan FEC rulings that state candidates who later decided to run for federal office couldn’t give state campaign dollars to the candidates replacing them on the state ballot or the state party.
Pence can hold onto the money for another day, give it to a charity not involved in elections or try to return money to donors. The third option has some added hurdles of following specific accounting rules.
Holcomb earlier boasted of Pence’s support in a letter to Indiana Republican Party State Committee members that chose him to fill the governor ballot vacancy.
"I know from speaking directly with (Pence) that his support is not symbolic, but rather it is a commitment to the financial backing, staffing, and resources available through the Mike Pence for Indiana Campaign Committee," Holcomb said.
Marc Lotter, spokesman for Pence campaign, saidthe campaign is looking at the relevant laws and the governor will abide by them.
"The bottom line is you can count on the fact that Eric Holcomb will have the resources necessary to be elected the next governor of the state of Indiana," he said.