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A group of Democratic senators is calling on education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos to pay off $5.3 million in fines and penalties that her All Children Matter political action committee owes to Ohio for campaign finance violations.

Ohio levied a fine of more than $5 million against the group in 2008 after finding that All Children Matter improperly channeled $870,000 in contributions from its national PAC to its Ohio affiliate.

Five senators wrote a letter to DeVos last week: Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont.

“The blatant disregard for the law that your PAC demonstrated is deeply troubling. However, when the organization’s violations of law were punished by the Ohio Elections Commission, the PAC’s refusal to take responsibility and pay the fines is unconscionable,” the senators wrote.

“If confirmed as Secretary of Education, you would be responsible for administering our nation’s student loan programs and ensuring that borrowers repay their loans in a timely manner. However, the PAC that you chaired failed to pay fines that were imposed on it over eight years ago. This demonstrates a serious lack of judgment by the PAC’s board and a willingness to avoid paying legally obligated public debts.”

The Ohio Elections Commission had ruled that both the federal and Ohio All Children Matter PACs violated the state’s campaign finance laws and imposed fines of $5.2 million. The Ohio attorney general’s office went to court in 2012 trying to collect the fine, receiving a $5.2 million judgment in 2013 from Franklin County Common Pleas Court, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

The court also ordered All Children Matter to pay a fine of $25 a day from Oct. 26, 2006, until the judgment was paid.

Ohio did not name DeVos individually in the case against All Children Matter. She and her husband Dick founded the PAC in 2003.

DeVos family spokesman Greg McNeilly said: “Regarding the All Children Matters issue in Ohio, the Supreme Court of the United States has spoken, and Betsy DeVos does not question their judgment.”

McNeilly was referring to the 2010 case, Citizens United v. FEC, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that political spending is protected under the First Amendment, so corporations and unions may spend unlimited amounts of money on political activities independent of candidate campaigns.

A hearing for DeVos’ nomination is expected to take place early next year before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

mburke@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8736

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