Rep. Cawthorn tells feds he forgot about $236K; sends amended campaign finance report

Days after filing a mandatory federal campaign finance document whose month-late arrival could garner him more than $17,000 in fines, Rep. Madison Cawthorn has filed another document saying he got the first report wrong.

That is because he forgot about the $235,566 he personally gave the campaign, Cawthorn's latest campaign finance form says.

Changes in the amended report filed Aug. 17 show that most of that personal money went to pay off a debt to a company owned by Cawthorn's chief of staff. Another $10,000 went back into Cawthorn's pocket as he paid off part of a loan he made to his campaign.

Cawthorn and his staff have not responded to messages about his campaign finance disclosures, including an Aug. 19 email asking about the amended filing.

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The 27-year-old Henderson County Republican lost the May 17 primary after more than a year of scandals and missteps, including bringing guns through airport security checkpoints, claiming GOP congressional officials engaged in drug-fueled orgies and potentially breaking insider trading rules related to an online currency.

Republican congressman Madison Cawthorn greets supporters at his primary election day watch party in Hendersonville on May 17, 2022.
Republican congressman Madison Cawthorn greets supporters at his primary election day watch party in Hendersonville on May 17, 2022.

Primary winner Sen. Chuck Edwards, also of Henderson County, is facing off against Democratic Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara for the 11th congressional district to represent most of Western North Carolina.

Already late

Cawthorn filed his report for the second quarter — from April 16 to June 30 — on Aug. 14, nearly a month late. That is unusual for a major party candidate, staff with the Federal Elections Commission have said.

The FEC sent an Aug. 1 letter warning Cawthorn he could be subject to fines that an online calculator estimated could reach $17,141, though if the congressman is made to pay a monetary penalty, and how much, depends on a vote by FEC commissioners.

Any such penalty would be a civil fine and would come after the opening of an inquiry by commissioners. The existence of an inquiry is not public until it is closed, said FEC spokesperson Miles Martin. Any follow-up letters the commission sends requesting more information are public, he said.

While amendments such as the one Cawthorn filed are not uncommon, ones that show large changes can trigger FEC action, Martin said.

A Federal Elections Commission fine calculate shows the penalty Rep. Madison Cawthorn might pay for submitting his campaign finance report a month late.
A Federal Elections Commission fine calculate shows the penalty Rep. Madison Cawthorn might pay for submitting his campaign finance report a month late.

"What is part of the amendment that might be looked at by the FEC are what the changes are and what the additional amounts are," he said.

The FEC does not go beyond civil penalties. Criminal penalties are unusual, but if it is believed there was knowing and willful intent to violate campaign finance law, the Department of Justice could take action.

$235,566

Of the additional money Cawthorn noted in the amendment, most of it, $183,991, went to pay of a debt to EMP Strategies, a Texas limited liability company. Blake Harp, Cawthorn's chief of staff who owns the company, did not respond to an Aug. 19 message seeking comment.

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The filing says the company provided "campaign consulting, media placement and ads."

Another $41,575 went to pay off a debt to Harris Media for digital consulting.

The remaining $10,000 of Cawthorn's amended personal donation went toward a loan he made to his campaign committee. One section of his digital report showed his campaign still owed him more than $70,000.

Another odd change to the report involved the treasurer, the person responsible for compiling and filing campaign finance documents.

The Aug. 14 filing lists Thomas Datwyler as treasurer. The amendment assigned that duty to Cawthorn himself.

Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He's written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess at jburgess@citizentimes.com, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times. 

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Cawthorn to feds: Forgot about $236K; amends campaign finance report