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Inside Politics

FEC staff recommends funding for Sharpton

But questions raised about loans to campaign

From Phil Hirschkorn

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CNN-USA's political team brings you updates and analysis all evening, following Thursday's efforts by the Kerry camp to consolidate support among Democrats on the Hill and President Bush's trip to New York for a September 11 memorial ceremony and fund raising.
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Al Sharpton
Federal Election Commission

NEW YORK (CNN) -- An audit by the Federal Election Commission has recommended that the Rev. Al Sharpton be approved to receive public funds for his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The FEC audit clears the way for the six-member bipartisan commission to release $100,000 in federal money to the Sharpton campaign when the panel meets Thursday.

It would be the first time Sharpton's campaign has been declared eligible for the funds, which match up to $250 donated by individuals. Under federal election laws, people can give up to $2,000 to each candidate.

The FEC staff found that Sharpton's campaign successfully crossed the threshold for receiving matching funds -- raising at least $5,000 in $250 donations in at least 20 states -- though questions were raised about some of those funds.

"The audit staff is satisfied they made good on whatever problems there were," said FEC spokesman Bob Biersack. "It's relatively normal to go back and forth with a campaign and fill in the blanks and make it certifiable."

However, the FEC staff noted that questions still remain whether Sharpton has improperly loaned his campaign committee more than $50,000 in personal funds.

Records show that the campaign owes Sharpton $53,981 in "unpaid reimbursement requests" and that point may hold up the approval of matching funds. (Special Report: Campaign financing)

"The evidence is not sufficient to recommend an initial determination that match fund eligibility be denied; however, it appears that a further review of this matter is warranted," the FEC staff memorandum noted.

At least one organization has filed a formal complaint challenging Sharpton's application for federal funds.

Washington-area nonprofit group the National Legal and Policy Center alleged his campaign had not complied with the law, suggesting in a filing last month that Sharpton paid expenses "without proper disclosure" and received "questionable subsidies," such as from his foundation, the National Action Network.

"He is a serial violator of the Federal Election Campaign Act," said the center's chairman, Ken Boehm. "He has not lived up to the letter or spirit of the campaign law."

If approved by the FEC, Sharpton could expect his cash infusion from the U.S. Treasury 48 hours later.

As of January 31, the campaign was $485,696 in debt.

Nearly $24 million in matching funds has been handed out this year to six Democratic presidential candidates -- retired Gen. Wesley Clark, Sen. John Edwards, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Rep. Richard Gephardt, Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Lyndon Larouche.

The fund is paid for by the taxpayer checkoff on Internal Revenue Service tax forms.

Sen. John Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean opted out of the public financing system, not wanting to be constrained by its spending caps.

President Bush also has declined matching funds, raising more than $140 million on his own.

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