Dana Balter, who is vying for the Democratic nomination in the 24th Congressional District, violated Federal Election Commission regulations by accepting a salary from her campaign during the last fundraising quarter.
The FEC notified Balter's campaign of the violation in a letter dated Aug. 6. The Syracuse Democrat accepted five salary payments totaling $6,719.76, according to Friends of Dana Balter's July quarterly filing. She received $1,343.96 on April 19, $1,343.94 on May 3, $1,343.96 on May 20, $1,343.94 on June 5 and $1,343.96 on June 20.
Balter raised $190,919 in the second quarter from April 1 through June 30. Her campaign spent $82,250.34, which includes the salary she received.
Denise Stilla, senior campaign finance analyst in the FEC's Reports Analysis Division, explained in the letter why Balter's acceptance of the salary is a violation.
"A principal campaign committee may not pay a salary to a candidate prior to the filing deadline for access to the primary election ballot for the federal office that the candidate seeks," Stilla wrote.
Stilla's assessment echoes guidance regarding candidate salaries publicly available on the FEC's website. The provision states that the "first payment of salary shall be made no sooner than the filing deadline for access to the primary election ballot in the state in which the candidate is running for office."
Because Balter is seeking to run for office in New York, she can't accept a salary from her campaign until April 2, 2020 — the filing deadline for the federal primary election ballot.
"Salary payments made before this date constitutes a personal use of campaign funds," Stilla added. Using campaign funds for personal use is prohibited, according to the FEC.
Balter's campaign must respond to the commission by Sept. 10. The campaign committee could be audited or face penalties if it doesn't respond by that date.
Along with the required response, Balter must return her salary and the campaign must notify the commission of the reimbursement. The campaign will be required to amend its July quarterly filing to "clarify what action you will take concerning the apparent personal use of campaign funds."
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"If the disbursement(s) in question was incompletely or incorrectly reported, you must amend your original report with clarifying information," Stilla continued. "If the disbursements do constitute the personal use of campaign funds, the commission may take further legal action. However, prompt action to obtain reimbursement of the funds in question will be taken into consideration."
Joe Farrell, Balter's campaign manager, said the campaign learned about the violation last week. He called it an "oversight" because they weren't aware of the rule preventing candidates from receiving a salary before the primary filing deadline.
The campaign, Farrell noted, "took immediate steps to correct the problem."
"Dana will no longer be on the campaign payroll and will reimburse the campaign in full," he said. "We are confident this will resolve the matter."
Records show Balter accepted a salary from her campaign in 2018 when she was the Democratic nominee in the 24th Congressional District race. The payments began July 13, 2018 and continued until Nov. 16. Balter was paid nine times for a total of $12,461.68.
Balter could receive a salary during that time frame because it was after the filing deadline for the federal primary election. While she was reimbursed by the campaign for various expenses before the deadline, she wasn't paid a salary during the 2018 election cycle until after the primary.
There are rules candidates must abide by if they receive a salary from their campaigns. It must be paid by the candidate's principal campaign committee, according to the FEC, and the salary "must not exceed the lesser of the minimum annual salary for the federal office sought or what the candidate received as earned income in the previous year."
Salary payments must be on a pro-rata basis and candidates can't receive an annual salary from the campaign unless they're a candidate for a 12-month period. If requested by the FEC, candidates who receive a salary must submit income tax records and proof of earnings from prior years.
Candidates may receive salaries until the general election date or the end of their campaign.