WASHINGTON — As if U.S. Sen. John Hawley and his staff don’t have enough going on this month, Missouri’s junior senator had to clear up a little misunderstanding with federal campaign finance regulators, too.
Hawley has faced calls to resign from some of his Senate colleagues, donation boycotts from a host of corporations and falling poll numbers at home after objecting to the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory shortly after the attack on the Capitol earlier this month.
Now, his team has to do some accounting cleanup after failing to disclose the existence of two fundraising committees on his campaign finance reports late last year.
In what is a fairly routine occurrence for politicians, the senator’s campaign was sent a letter last week by the Federal Election Commission, noting that it had failed to disclose its relationship with two other committees that have raised money on behalf of his campaign since 2018, and which transferred small sums to his campaign account in September.
The Hawley Win Fund and the Indiana/Missouri Victory Committee are both designated as joint fundraising committees, or organizations that serve as a fundraising vehicle for multiple groups or candidates who in turn share the cost of the fundraising — and the profits.
Hawley’s campaign quickly responded to the FEC by amending its statement of organization to correctly include the two groups as affiliated organizations.
Hawley’s campaign treasurer declined to comment when reached by phone, noting that all questions should be forwarded to his communications team. A spokeswoman did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Both joint fundraising committees appear to have been used mostly during Hawley’s 2018 run for the Senate, and have hardly been used since. That’s what makes the FEC letter so unusual: If these committees were just sitting around collecting dust, why hadn’t the campaign closed them down?
Absent any clarification from Hawley’s team, a look at the timeline of the transaction appears to point to a potential answer.
In both cases, Hawley and his partners in the joint committees may have been waiting for a refund from the Republican National Committee for travel that occurred surrounding two separate 2018 campaign events that included then-President Donald Trump and then-Vice President Mike Pence.
The Hawley Win Fund was a joint fundraising committee created between Hawley’s campaign, the RNC and the National Republican Senatorial Committee to raise money around an appearance by Trump in St. Louis in March 2018 at the Hilton Frontenac.
The Indiana/Missouri Victory Committee, meanwhile, was a partnership between Hawley and two other Republican Senate hopefuls who ran in 2018, now-U.S. Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana and then-Rep. Jim Renacci, who did not win his election for the senate in Ohio. They set the committee up to raise money around an appearance by Pence in Indiana in May 2018.
But somewhere along the way, a bill must have gone unpaid — for more than two years.
Not until September 2020 did the RNC pay two sums to the committees, both described in campaign finance filings as reimbursements for travel costs. Those were $3,197.73 to the Indiana/Missouri group on September 25 and $1,645.46 to the Hawley Win Fund on September 30. The payments were further described as being for “travel materials” on the RNC’s campaign finance reports.
Almost immediately upon receiving the refunds, both committees divided the money among the participants of the joint fundraising committee, paid the committee’s treasurer for the accounting work and ultimately closed down operations about two weeks later.
The fact that these joint committees stayed active for so long after their intended purpose was fulfilled is odd, said Brett Kappel, a campaign finance expert and lawyer at the Washington, D.C., law firm Harmon Curran. But the fact that they closed down operations so soon after getting reimbursed for travel seems to hint the reason was they were waiting for some money, he said.
“That may explain why the committees got set aside, because way back, they were told they were going to get this refund, and they never did, and then, finally, when it arrives, it was like, ‘Oh good, now we can shut this thing down,’” Kappel said. “I think the most noteworthy thing about it is it seems uncommonly unprofessional, but not nefarious.”
Hawley appears to have made pretty good use of these joint committees in the leadup to his 2018 victory over then-Sen. Claire McCaskill. The Hawley Win Fund raised more than $1 million and the other group took in some $300,000.