Illegal contributions by the sister of former Republican National Committee Chairman and current MSNBC contibutor Michael Steele got his former Senate campaign fined $54,000 by the Federal Elections Committee, the agency disclosed this week.
It all started back in 2006, when Steele’s sister Monica Turner hosted two fundraisers at her home in Bethesda, Md.
Invitations to the event said they were paid for by Steele for Maryland, Inc. But because the campaign was apparently low on funds, Turner paid $6,578.35 in catering, security and valet expenses for a July event and $7,850 in expenses for an October event.
In October and November of 2006, Turner sprang for email ad blasts, radio ad editing and campaign office expenses totaling $7,750, according to a conciliation agreement between the campaign and the FEC.
She also gave $6,000 in cash to Paul Ellington, who was Steele’s chief of staff in the lieutenant governor’s office, to pay for campaign needs like telephones and advertising. Turner also wrote herself a check for $8,500, cashed it, and gave the money to Ellington to reserve radio advertising spots ahead of the election.
Turner’s contributions to her brother’s campaign totaled $36,678.35, and the Steele campaign didn’t report a cent of it to the FEC. Campaign staffers did tell her she’d be reimbursed for her expenses, but she wasn’t approached about settling the debt until the end of the campaign or when Steele treasurer Belinda Cook told her that they had a legal obligation to reimburse her.
Turner told the FEC that Ellington said it would be beneficial to the campaign if the reimbursement check was made out to Brown Sugar Unlimited, a corporation owned by Turner, but Ellington denied he even knew she owned a company in that name.
Brown Sugar, it turns out, had been dissolved as a Maryland corporation in March 2006. The Steele campaign said Turner thought the business was dormant, not dissolved.
Still, they made invoices for Brown Sugar’s expenses totaling $37,262.35 and cut her a check, which was disclosed on the Steele campaign’s April 2007 quarterly report. Turner deposited the check in her personal bank account.
The FEC concluded that the $22,250 in excessive contributions and $14,500 in cash accepted by the Steele campaign were “knowing and willful” violations, though the campaign maintains the violations weren’t purposeful.
Turner agreed to personally pay a civil penalty of $5,500 in an agreement she reached with the FEC back in March of this year. The Steele campaign’s agreement was signed on Aug. 17, and per FEC policy was publicly disclosed within 30 days.
During his time as RNC chairman, Steele was dogged by fundraising issues, including when the committee spent $2,000 at a club with topless dancers and the revelation that the RNC was paying a Steele aide three times what her predecessor made and paying for her to live in a mansion in Florida.