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Cawthorn's Late FEC Filing And Possible Fine Raise Questions About Donor-Financed $2k Cigar Purchase

Cawthorn's Late FEC Filing And Possible Fine Raise Questions About Donor-Financed $2k Cigar Purchase
@madisoncawthorn/Instagram

Republican Representative Madison Cawthorn could face approximately $17,000 in fines after filing his campaign finance report a month late according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

FEC personnel, the FEC website and Cawthorn's staff confirmed the late filing to The Asheville Citizen-Times. The FEC's online fine calculator showed Cawthorn could owe $17,141, but if he is actually fined and how much depends on a vote by the FEC commissioners.

Cawthorn's second quarter report—covering April-June 2022—was due July 15, but Cawthorn didn't file until August 14 according to his paperwork. Late filings are very unusual according to FEC spokesperson Christian Hilland.

Hilland said:

"Major party candidates tend to have more money, and they're able to afford a compliance person or a law firm to handle their reports."

Cawthorn lost his reelection bid to his Republican challenger during the GOP primary on May 17, 2022. Reports of Cawthorn dismantling his local office in the immediate aftermath may have contributed to the late filing.

The Asheville Citizen-Times was unable to reach a spokesperson for Cawthorn or his treasurer of record for a comment.

The late filing drew added scrutiny to the one-term Congressman's spending habits. One expense that stood out was $1,812 of donors money spent at a tobacco shop.

The unusual purchase raised questions about potential unauthorized spending. In addition, funds earmarked for the general election couldn't be touched unless the expense was directly related to the general election.

With Cawthorn now off the November ballot, those funds are off the table.

His FEC filing noted both the refund of $248,098 to campaign contributors and an influx of cash in the amount of $207,858 from Cawthorn himself.

But whether due to the return of donations or overspending, Cawthorn's camp spent more by June 30 than what was brought in during the second quarter. Citing the almost $2k purchase of cigars and the late filing, Cawthorn's critics are calling for a review of the Republican Congressman's spending.

Online, criticism for Cawthorn was plentiful.

According to Hilland, an FEC analyst need to check Cawthorn's financial reports to verify Cawthorn paid back any donations spent that were earmarked for the general election.

By law, general election funds must be paid back within 60 days with failure resulting in a simple warning letter up to monetary fines. If knowing and willful intent to violate campaign finance law is discovered, a potential crime could be referred to the Department of Justice for further investigation and action.

Cawthorn is already facing a House ethics investigation over allegations he improperly promoted a cryptocurrency for financial gain and his relationship with a staffer.

Cawthorn fell from grace rather swiftly.

As recently as May, former President Donald Trump had called on Republicans to give the scandal-ridden Cawthorn a "second chance" despite reports Trump had become "increasingly annoyed" with him in light of a multitude of unsavory headlines, which at that point included a video clip of Cawthorn naked in bed and making thrusting motions on top of another man.

Trump issued his defense of Cawthorn via Truth Social, his personal social media platform. He said Cawthorn had been through "a life changing event the likes of which, fortunately, few people will ever have to endure"—a reference to the car accident that left Cawthorn partially paralyzed and reliant on a wheelchair.

Trump added Cawthorn "did a great job" when he was first elected and only recently "made some foolish mistakes."

Trump's defense was largely perceived as a tactical one to get Republicans through this year's midterm elections.