BOSTON (AP) – Common Cause President Chellie Pingree violated election laws with at least one of her mailings to donors during her unsuccessful bid for the Senate, according to an analysis by the Boston Globe.

The Federal Election Commission is currently auditing finance reports in the race in which Pingree, a Democrat, lost to Republican Sen. Susan Collins.

Election law specialists asked by the Globe to analyze mailings obtained by the newspaper said at least one of the two solicitations was illegal.

The Pingree campaign “clearly and inarguably” violated federal law in a July 2002 solicitation letter, said William B. Canfield, a federal elections attorney and incoming chairman of the American Bar Association’s standing committee on election law.

Pingree now serves as president of Common Cause, which achieved a significant victory last year with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which closed the very soft-money loopholes Pingree used to her advantage.

In her Senate race, before the law took effect, Pingree not only relied on soft money, which was legal, but also suggested ways for donors to exceed contribution limits on individual candidates.

The letter identified as troublesome by the Globe’s analysts had suggested contributions to a state party fund and a national party fund, and encouraged donors to ask their families and friends to contribute.

That was legal. However, in what legal specialists say was a violation of federal law, she failed to clarify to donors that these soft-money contributions would not directly benefit her candidacy.

“No one knows what the FEC will do, but I think this letter impermissibly solicits soft money for a federal candidate,” said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics and former general counsel to the FEC.

Elias countered that Pingree’s campaign was under no specific disclaimer requirements relating to how soft money would be spent.

Collins, a supporter of campaign finance reform, refused to be the beneficiary of any soft money in the race.

For her part, Pingree said she ran her campaign with integrity and doesn’t expect the audit to yield “substantive findings.”

“I told the board I never would have considered a position at Common Cause if I had any concerns about the way we operated our campaign,” she told the Globe.


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