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Campaign Legal Center Files Federal Complaint Against Lesko

Debbie Lesko
Bret Jaspers/KJZZ
file | staff
Debbie Lesko.

On Thursday, the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center filed a federal complaint against Debbie Lesko. Meanwhile, a state complaint was dismissed.

Both stem from Lesko transferring $50,000 from her state re-election fund to a SuperPAC supporting her run for Congress. That SuperPAC is called Conservative Leadership for Arizona.

The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office found “no reasonable cause” to believe Lesko violated state law. It was ruling on a complaint filed by one of Lesko’s opponents in the GOP Primary for the 8th Congressional district, Phil Lovas. The Secretary of State's Office said it "expresses no opinion" on a federal complaint Lovas has also filed.

And the federal issue is murkier. The CLC, which filed its own complaint with the Federal Elections Commission on Thursday, says Lesko violated federal law.

“It’s well-settled federal law that a candidate cannot transfer money from a state campaign account to support [her] run for federal office. But that is exactly what Debbie Lesko did,” said Brendan Fischer, director of Federal and FEC Reform at the CLC. “If this conduct is allowed to pass without any repercussions, then it would open a new loophole that would allow federal candidates to funnel unregulated money into federal elections.”

A Lesko spokesman said the campaign followed all federal and state laws and looks forward to the CLC complaint being dismissed, just as Lovas’ state complaint was.

Any decision is likely to come well past the special general election in April and the regular Congressional election this fall.

A spokesman for Lesko’s rival in April, Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, said the issue is for the legal experts to debate, but that an investigation is warranted if a campaign looks like it acted unethically or illegally.

Bret Jaspers was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2017 to 2020.