FEC fines Mike Braun Senate committee $159k for campaign finance violation

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun's Senate campaign owes the federal government $159,000 for violating campaign finance rules during the 2018 election, among the largest fines in the federal agency's history.

The Federal Election Commission posted the agreed-upon civil penalty this week, ending a multi-year saga with the Braun Senate campaign and the campaign's former treasurer.

Since 1980, only about 50 cases have warranted larger fines, but the fine represents a small percentage of the approximately $11.5 million in campaign loans that were misreported. The FEC had initially accused the campaign of illegally accepting improper loans, but after the campaign provided documentation clearing themselves of criminal wrongdoing, the FEC determined the wrongdoing amounted to clerical errors by the former treasurer, Travis Kabrick.

In a statement, Braun's senior adviser Josh Kelley said that Braun's current campaign treasurer, Thomas Datwyler, is exploring ways for his company, 9Seven Consulting ― an FEC compliance firm where Kabrick also worked ― to cover the fine.

"The agreement approved by the FEC makes it clear that former Treasurer Kabrick was responsible for the errors," Kelley said. "He was provided all relevant information and documents from Mike Braun to properly report the loans, all loans were legal and proper, all the details were made public throughout the campaign, and the reporting errors by Mr. Kabrick were technical in nature."

Braun raised and spent $20 million on his campaign for the Senate seat, a significant chunk of which was self-funded. His was a closely watched election in which he defeated two sitting congressmen and the Senate incumbent, Democrat Joe Donnelly. The Jasper native and former CEO of Meyer Distributing is now running for governor.

More: Mike Braun is leading the race for governor. But is his record a liability or benefit?

Specifically, the commission found that the campaign did not properly report the loan terms and balances for 29 transactions between July 2017 and the end of 2018, according to the conciliation agreement signed Feb. 26.

"We are committed to ensuring full compliance and transparency in all future financial reporting," Datwyler said.

A Democratic member of the six-member commission, vice chair Ellen Weintraub, published a statement this week drawing attention to one audit finding that was excluded from the final report by a partisan vote.

In their draft report in 2021, auditors found what they believed to be excessive contributions from individuals as well as an excessive amount repaid to Braun for his loans to the campaign. But there was a pending Supreme Court decision that would change the law limiting candidate loan repayments. Anticipating the ruling, FEC commissioners voted narrowly to reject both findings regarding excessive contributions.

Weintraub, contending that the Supreme Court case would only impact the loan repayments to Braun and has nothing to do with the alleged $732,429 in excess contributions from individuals, argued that the FEC should have postponed its decision on that finding.

She along with another Democrat member and an Independent member voted to postpone; the three Republican members rejected that idea. In her statement posted Wednesday, Weintraub said there "has never been any adequate explanation" for excluding this finding.

Braun is the frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination, according to the first independent poll released. The primary is May 7.

Contact IndyStar state government and politics reporter Kayla Dwyer at kdwyer@indystar.com or follow her on Twitter@kayla_dwyer17.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: FEC fines Mike Braun Senate campaign $159k, blames former treasurer