Bishop PAC fails to file disclosure reports

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A fundraising committee formed over a year ago by Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester has failed to file any disclosure reports whatsoever, risking federal fines and penalties.

The Federal Election Commission took notice and sent letters asking Bishop’s leadership political action committee to file, but it still didn’t do it.

Brendan Fischer, director of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center’s Federal and FEC Reform Program, said a failure to disclose the money is “very concerning.”

“A candidate who has been in Congress for over two years now certainly knows that the money raised and spent through your leadership PAC is subject to reporting requirements,” Fischer said.

“The reason we have these disclosure is so voters know who is supporting a candidate and who is potentially trying to buy influence with a candidate. If the money is kept secret, the public and voters can’t know if the official is taking action to benefit those secret donors.”

Separately, Bishop’s campaign committee has pattern of accounting mistakes in its disclosure reports. That’s prompted more than a dozen warning letters from the FEC in recent years requesting that the campaign correct its figures or face an audit or enforcement action.

A spokesman for Bishop said this week that the committees have added outside help in the form of a compliance firm “to ensure there is accurate accounting and reporting moving forward.”

In addition, Bishop’s leadership PAC intends to file the three missing disclosure reports, spokesman Stu Sandler said. Sandler did not say why the reports were missed.

“These disclosures are the basic, most fundamental level of transparency that we have in terms of people serving the public showing the public who they are taking money from,” said Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

“Usually, candidates are pretty familiar with what the reporting requirements are, and there’s a lot of trainings that happen so that people know what the expectations are in filing these reports.”

It’s unclear what penalties that Bishop’s leadership PAC could face because the FEC’s administrative fines, for example, are based in part on what a committee raised and spent in a reporting period, which is unknown in this case.

Leadership PACs may be set up by current and former members of Congress and are often used to contribute to other candidates’ campaigns or caucuses.

Bishop, a member of the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, registered his leadership PAC with the FEC in October 2016, calling it the Making Bold Initiatives + Solutions to Help America, or M-BISH PAC.

A full account of the money raised and spent by M-BISH PAC is unknown, since no reports have been filed. But the PAC has received at least $10,000 in contributions over 2016-17, according to FEC reports other committees filed.

Those contributions included $5,000 from the General Motors Co. PAC in September 2016 and another $2,500 in September 2017.

The Lansing-based Jackson National PAC, affiliated with Jackson Holdings LLC and Jackson National Life Insurance Co., donated $1,500 to M-BISH PAC this fall. Capitol One Financial Corp. Association Political Fund gave $1,000 in June.

The FEC sent three letters to Valerie Tillstrom, the treasurer of M-BISH PAC, after the report deadlines were missed, saying failure to file a complete report could result in civil money penalties, an audit or legal enforcement action. Fines begin to accrue the day after the report’s due date.

Tillstrom is also the treasurer for Bishop’s congressional campaign committee, which has received numerous letters from FEC analysts flagging incorrect totals listed in Bishop’s quarterly, year-end and primary and general election reports.

The agency often asked for corrections for accounting errors, improper categorizations and missing reporting schedules. The campaign has filed amended reports to fix most mistakes.

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