SALT LAKE CITY — The controversy surrounding more than $1 million contributed to Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, for a primary race she didn't have "at most is a $10,800 problem," her newly hired election law attorney said Tuesday.
"From a legal perspective, that's all it is," said Matt Sanderson, an attorney based in Washington, D.C., who was hired less than two weeks ago to help the Love campaign deal with questions about her campaign finances raised by the Federal Election Commission.
Sanderson told reporters during a briefing arranged by the Love campaign that the campaign of her Democratic rival, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, is engaged in "extreme hyperbole by saying illegalities occurred."
Love is refunding a total of $10,800 in contributions from four supporters whose contributions exceed the maximum allowed by federal law, Sanderson said, and "relabeling" another $370,000 to account for two rather than three fundraising cycles.
Such actions are "just part and parcel of running federal campaigns," he said, calling the inquiry by the FEC that sparked them routine. He expects it to be resolved in Love's favor.
"There are things to tidy up, but I wouldn't characterize any of the things that have occurred so far as a mistake or a real problem," Sanderson said. "I think it's just a small housekeeping issue to deal with."
That's not how the McAdams' campaign sees the situation surrounding Love's campaign contributions, which are also the subject of a complaint filed with the FEC by the progressive nonprofit Alliance for a Better Utah that seeks a possible criminal investigation.
A new TV commercial from McAdams that began airing Tuesday asks, "What do Washington politicians do when caught with $1 million in illegal contributions? Mia Love kept the money and is using it to make false attacks against Ben McAdams."
McAdams' campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, said Love "tried to game the system to get an unfair advantage," by raising money for both the convention and primary cycles when it was clear she would have no opponent.
Love had no Republican opponents and was formally nominated at the state GOP convention in April, about two months before the state primary election. The Love campaign is redesignating money raised after the convention for the primary.
"This is what Washington, D.C., politicians try to do when they're embroiled in scandal," Roberts said. "They try to distract. They try to misinform people. This is not a complicated issue."
He said the campaign stands by the new TV commercial.
"We'll take the ad off the air when she gives back the illegal million dollars," Roberts said. "She can roll out all the attorneys in the world. It's not going to change the fact that she violated the law."
The new McAdams spot is the first negative commercial from him. Love's latest spot, which also debuted Tuesday, touts McAdams' ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, including backing Hillary Clinton's presidential bid.
Chase Thomas, executive director of the Alliance for a Better Utah, said Love needs to refund the more than $1 million raised for the primary because it's too late to redesignate contributions.12 comments on this story
Thomas said he didn't understand why the Love campaign was bringing it up again.
"In our view, it's a losing issue. But that's because we disagree when it comes down to what the law requires," he said. "It's going to be just a back and forth right now because ultimately the FEC isn't going to get to this until after the midterm election."
The 4th Congressional District race is seen as the most competitive — and most contentious — in Utah. RealClearPolitics.com has labeled the race a toss-up and UtahPolicy.com polling has shown it's too close to call.