FEC to Sharpton: Return $100,000
Democrat's campaign vows to fight ruling
From Robert Yoon
CNN Political Unit
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal officials on Thursday ordered Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton to repay the $100,000 in public matching funds that he received this year for his White House bid.
The six-member Federal Election Commission decided unanimously to take action against Sharpton and his presidential campaign committee after an investigation determined that he had exceeded a $50,000 limit that candidates may spend on their own campaigns.
But Sharpton's campaign disputed the ruling.
"We expected this. They've been under pressure from these right-wing hate groups for months now," said Sharpton campaign manager Charles Halloran. "We planned all along to appeal this decision and have met extensively with counsel. The statutes are clear and convincing about the reverend's donations to his own campaign, and we've followed them to the strict letter of the law."
Halloran also said the campaign was considering legal action against the commission.
Under federal campaign laws, presidential candidates who agree to fund-raising and spending limits can receive public matching funds of up to $250 per contributor. Candidates must raise at least $5,000 in at least 20 states in order to participate in the program.
Sharpton qualified for $100,000 in matching funds in March, and was approved to receive an additional $80,000 in April.
However, last week after completing its investigation the commission ruled that Sharpton was ineligible to receive public funds and withheld payment of the $80,000. Thursday, commissioners decided Sharpton must pay funds already received.
"The FEC is trying to deny me the right to earn a living," said Sharpton last week in response to the commission's earlier ruling. "All my life I have been traveling as a civil rights leader and minister trying to speak out for those for whom no one is representing. Now the FEC wants to call those trips political if I spend 2 hours at a fund raiser out of four days of speaking to civil rights groups. This will not stand."
According to FEC officials, there is no automatic punishment if Sharpton refuses to comply with the Thursday's order. Commissioners would have to discuss a course of action at a future hearing.
Democratic presidential hopefuls have received $27 million in matching funds so far this campaign. Both President Bush and Sen. John Kerry, this year's presumptive major party nominees, have opted out of the matching fund program.