Election complaints as last-minute campaign strategy

Over the past week there have been at least three high-profile complaints filed with the Federal Election Commission against the two major party candidates for U.S. Senate.

Democratic Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo kicked things off when she alleged Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon was conspiring with husband Vince to use the family’s company – Stamford-based World Wrestling Entertainment – to promote Linda’s candidacy.

A few days later Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy filed a complaint with the FEC accusing Blumenthal of illegally partnering with Planned Parenthood to mount a smear campaign against Linda McMahon.

And today Healy filed a second complaint with the FEC over Blumenthal’s fundraising.

These complaints and the others that have been or will be filed in the Senate and other races amount to last minute campaign tactics.

Why? Because there is no chance that they’ll be settled by the FEC before Election Day on Tuesday. So the complainant and their candidate get a chance to raise doubts about the opposing side in the media knowing a final determination is weeks, months, possibly even years away. But all they need in these final days is to cause voters to wonder whether McMahon, Blumenthal or other candidates are playing dirty. Nobody expects to prove it in time for the polls to open.

Don’t believe me? Then take the word of David Mason, an FEC Commissioner from 1998 until 2008 and a former chairman.

Mason declined to speculate on the motives, but he told me by phone this afternoon that “the majority of complaints that are filed in any two year election cycle are filed in the last month or two before the election.”

“And because of the statutory procedure for handling complaints, the fastest disposition of a complaint that, as a practical matter, the commission could get to is two months,” Mason said.

Consider that before an investigation is even launched, there is a 20-day window between when the commission receives a complaint and the deadline for the accused party to file an initial response, according to the FEC website.

“Anything filed after Labor Day ain’t getting settled before the election,” Mason said. “Anybody who’s filing a complaint now knows it can’t be settled before Election Day. Or they’re an idiot.”

Let’s assume neither DiNardo nor Healy nor Blumenthal nor McMahon are idiots.

Brian Lockhart