Alek Skarlatos, a Republican candidate for Congress in Oregon, was cleared of breaking campaign finance laws this week, months after a Democratic-aligned group complained that he had inappropriately used funds from a foundation he managed to fund his campaign.
Democratic campaign manager Ross Purgason claimed in a statement that “Democrats have created a phony scandal to malign Alek Skarlatos.” These bogus allegations have been rejected by the Federal Election Commission.
After failing to win the seat in 2020, Skarlatos, who is now campaigning for reelection to represent a coastal Oregon district, founded the nonprofit organization 15:17 Trust, promising to fight for veterans who had been “left high and dry” by the nation “they placed their lives on the line for.” Additionally, he utilized $93,000 in campaign surplus to launch the foundation.
However, after Skarlatos made the decision to compete for the seat once more in 2021, the nonprofit transferred $65,000 back to his campaign a few months later. Last year, an article by the Associated Press on the money transfers was followed by a complaint by the Democrat-aligned group End Citizens United to the FEC.
Campaign finance regulations forbid candidates from accepting illegal funds from the frequently ill-defined and unregulated realm of political nonprofits as well as from engaging in self-dealing. According to legal experts, this includes a restriction on candidates giving money to a nonprofit they manage as well as a more general prohibition on taking donations from these organizations.
But in this instance, the FEC discovered that Skarlatos’ organization was barely operating and had only succeeded in raising roughly $1,800. The organization also came to the conclusion that the money transfers from Skarlatos’ campaign to his nonprofit and back were completed in such a short length of time that they most likely amounted to a valid refund.
The Skarlatos campaign furnished the agency with a file, in which the agency states: “Without information to indicate the contrary, the $65,000 payment from the 15:17 (Trust) to the Committee was likely a bona fide refund.” The filing has not yet been made available to the public.
In a report published by The AP last year, it was described how Skarlatos’ group was raising money online but otherwise keeping a low profile and not yet releasing its annual tax documents that would have shown how much money it had raised and how it had been spent.
The article also discussed how laws restricting donations made by candidates to nonprofit organizations they manage aim to prevent candidates from circumventing the prohibition on using campaign cash for personal expenses. It also included information on how Skarlatos had previously received $43,000 from his 2020 campaign in transportation reimbursements, rent, and other costs obliquely categorized as contractor campaign staff.
The remaining $28,000 that was not returned to Skarlatos’ campaign, as well as how the organization used the funds Skarlatos lent it, were not fully disclosed to the FEC. The Skarlatos campaign claimed that around $14,000 had been spent on fundraising, but the file made public by the agency omitted an extra $14,000.
Skarlatos got some notoriety in 2015 when he assisted in thwarting an attempt on a train headed for Paris by a heavily armed member of the Islamic State group while serving in the Oregon National Guard. He was hailed as a hero, received dual French citizenship, visited the White House, and was featured on “Dancing with the Stars.” Additionally, it resulted in a role in Clint Eastwood’s film “15:17 to Paris” where he played himself.
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