Utah Group Files Complaint Against Mia Love Over Fund-Raising

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A progressive group in Utah that advocates government transparency and accountability filed a federal complaint against Representative Mia Love, a Republican, on Tuesday over alleged campaign finance violations, escalating the liberal fight against the vulnerable incumbent just seven weeks before November’s midterm elections.

Alliance for a Better Utah, a progressive nonprofit, filed the complaint with the Federal Election Commission and sent a detailed letter to the commission’s general counsel and the chief of the public integrity section at the Department of Justice’s criminal division. The letter, which comes after the commission forced Ms. Love to acknowledge that some of her primary funds had been improperly raised, argues that Ms. Love’s “actions are a betrayal of the public trust and of Utah voters,” and “should be subject to criminal penalties.”

In a statement, Ms. Love’s campaign called the complaint a political ploy.

“It is no surprise that an extremely liberal-leaning organization such as ‘Alliance for a Better Utah’ is filing a complaint on completely false and desperate charges,” said Sasha Clark, Ms. Love’s campaign communications director.

The crux of the allegation against Ms. Love stems from more than $1 million she raised leading up to her re-election campaign this year. Ms. Love did not face a primary challenger because of Utah’s convention nomination rules, but, according to the commission, she raised the money during the primary challenge period, and an additional $372,468 even after she secured the state nomination and knew a primary would not take place.

In a response letter, Ms. Love refuted the bulk of the allegations, citing a similar situation involving Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s 2016 re-election campaign where he was allowed to keep some funds because of the prospect of a primary challenge that never happened. Ms. Love did acknowledge some error, however, and has since said she would redesignate the $372,000 raised after the state convention for her general election campaign and pay back about $10,000, according to her campaign’s lawyer.

Chase Thomas, the executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah, said Ms. Love should pay back the full sum. Mr. Thomas said filing a complaint was also meant to speed up the investigative process on the matter.

“Her response was completely inadequate,” he said.

His organization became known around 2013 when a similar campaign finance complaint against state Attorney General John Swallow helped lead to Mr. Swallow’s resignation and eventual arrest (Mr. Swallow was eventually acquitted of all charges).

“Mia Love has been at this for a while — she’s gone through multiple campaigns, and she knows what campaign finance laws are out there,” Mr. Thomas said. “There’s a possibility that this was done willfully and knowingly.”

Ms. Love, a former mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, first ran for Congress in 2012, and lost. She won two years later, and was re-elected in 2016. Ms. Love is also the first black female Republican ever elected to Congress.

Former F.E.C. commissioners said that even with the progressive alliance’s new complaint against Ms. Love, it is unlikely she will experience additional consequences. The bar is extremely high to prove criminal wrongdoing in campaign finance cases, they said.

“It seems like she’s already acknowledged impropriety and agreed to remove and not keep some of the money, I just don’t see this as something the F.E.C. would spend its resources on,” said Ann Ravel, a Democrat who served as the organization’s commissioner under former President Barack Obama.

A Republican counterpart agreed.

“This is going to be pretty tough for them to find anything really against her,” said Bradley Smith, a former head of the commission under former President George W. Bush. “Love’s campaign may have tried to game the system, but if you can game the system — you game the system.”

But the looming investigation could have political consequences for Ms. Love, who is facing a difficult re-election campaign this year. Her Democratic opponent, Ben McAdams has made “fixing a broken congress” one of his top campaign issues, and the Cook Political Report has rated the race as “Lean Republican” instead of “Likely Republican.”

When news of the F.E.C.’s action against Ms. Love surfaced, Mr. McAdams called a news conference to accuse Ms. Love of “gaming the system” and that such behavior was indicative of a “culture of corruption” in Washington.

“Ben’s opponent, Rep. Mia Love, was just caught illegally raising campaign funds,” reads a banner at the top of his website this week. “Over $1 million is in question. Help us hold Rep. Mia Love accountable.”

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