WASHINGTON (AP) – The president of Common Cause, a group that campaigns for clean elections, is being audited by the Federal Election Commission after failing to comply with the agency’s reporting rules during her 2002 bid for the Senate.

Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who lost to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Wednesday that the audit likely occurred because her campaign failed to respond to two FEC requests last year for more information about some of its financial disclosures.

“It was an oversight of our campaign,” said Pingree, who was tapped to head the Washington-based watchdog group in March. “As soon as we found out we had not responded to them, we responded immediately.”

Pingree, who served in Maine’s state Senate from 1992 to 2000 and was majority leader for four years, characterized the lapse as routine paperwork that a busy campaign staff overlooked. Her attorney, Marc Elias, said an FEC audit is not unusual and expressed confidence that the agency would find “no material problems.”

Ian Stirton, an FEC spokesman, said audits are confidential so he could neither confirm nor deny whether one was under way. Audits are separate from enforcement actions that can yield civil fines. Once the audit report is completed, the FEC commissioners could decide on further action.

Common Cause spokeswoman Mary Boyle said the group isn’t considering removing Pingree.

“There’s no talk along those lines at all,” Boyle said. “At this point, we want the FEC to decide this issue. The process here has to play itself out. Chellie is a person of great integrity and as an institution, Common Cause believes in the process.”

Pingree has been an energetic proponent of Common Cause’s primary agenda – a push for restrictions on campaign fund-raising, including a ban on soft-money contributions.

Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics and former general counsel to the FEC, said he believes Pingree may have crossed the legal line in some of her campaign literature when she encouraged donors to make soft-money contributions and left the impression that the money would help her campaign. He said the law requires federal candidates to make clear that soft-money donations would not directly benefit their campaign.

“She was a former candidate and Common Cause hired her as a former candidate, so they have to decide the impact of it,” Noble said.

Pingree’s lawyer Elias said there is no requirement for candidates to include a specific disclaimer about how soft money will be spent.

AP-ES-06-12-03 0915EDT



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