FEC wants answers on whether Amanda Makki paid personal bills with campaign dollars

Should power bills count as campaign expenses? And which election did the disbursements support?

Federal officials say congressional candidate Amanda Makki may have spent campaign funds on personal power and insurance bills. They also raise questions about whether new campaign contributions are being used to pay old bills for a failed 2020 run.

The Federal Election Commission last week sent a letter to Makki’s campaign sounding alarms about potential problems with reported expenses. The letter outlines issues related to disbursements reported for the first quarter of 2022.

On March 11, Makki reported about $1,185 in “Home Office Expense” disbursements that included five payments to Duke Energy worth a collective $609 and a check to Geico for about $576.

A letter from FEC senior campaign finance analyst Brian Buhr outlines a number of reporting issues for Makki. It calls for amendments to the filing that lay out in greater detail the purpose of the expenses.

The correspondence takes particular issue with expenses that appear to go toward a “personal use.”

“If the disbursement in question does indeed constitute personal use, the committee should seek reimbursement for the appropriate amount of the personal use violation from the beneficiary,” the letter states. “In addition, you should amend your report showing this reimbursement.”

The FEC required the campaign to respond by June 16 with answers to a number of questions. It also makes clear reimbursement could impact, but not necessarily eliminate, the possibility of punishment for improper expenditures.

“If it is determined that the disbursement(s) constitutes the personal use of campaign funds, the Commission may consider taking further legal action,” the letter states. “However, prompt action to obtain reimbursement of the funds in question will be taken into consideration.”

The letter is addressed to campaign treasurer Eric Robinson, a prominent Republican treasurer. But Robinson no longer works with the campaign and declined to discuss the letter.

Makki’s campaign told Florida Politics the FEC’s concerns are being addressed.

“The campaign paid for a portion of Amanda’s electric bills based on a reasonable and good-faith understanding that this was permissible because the campaign has used her home office seven days a week as her exclusive campaign headquarters,” said Eric Wang, attorney for the Makki campaign.

“Specifically, the campaign has used her home for campaign organizational and strategy meetings, campaign fundraising, general work space for campaign staff and volunteers, printing materials for her campaign, storage space for campaign materials, campaign media appearances, and media production associated with her campaign. She literally just filmed campaign commercials at her home two weeks ago. This has saved Amanda’s donors money by limiting overhead expenditures for commercial office space in one of the most expensive real estate markets. By doing so, the campaign legitimately believed it could reimburse for a portion of the utility costs it incurred.

“As it turns out, the FEC’s highly confusing ‘personal use’ rules now prohibit these types of payments, even though the FEC previously has permitted this type of payment. At the same time, the FEC rules still permit campaigns to pay for using other real property that a candidate owns. This distinction is not intuitive and favors certain wealthy candidates who own investment properties while disfavoring candidates like Amanda who are not career politicians and are not steeped in the FEC’s intricate and arbitrary rules. Amanda has already refunded her campaign $611.09 for six months of home office usage in light of the convoluted FEC rules. Since the FEC letter was issued last Thursday, Amanda’s campaign has taken prompt measures to enhance its FEC record-keeping and reporting operations, including retaining a new compliance team.”

Makki challenged Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist in 2020 but lost the Republican nomination to Anna Paulina Luna, who lost to Crist. Notably, Makki closed the 2020 race with $18,228 in debts.

The FEC letter makes note of a number of expenditures where Makki’s reports do not make clear in which election cycle expenses originated.

“Please note that Commission Regulations encourage committees making contributions to other candidates to designate their contributions in writing for a particular election,” the letter states. “Contributions not designated for a particular election will be attributed to the next election for Federal office in which the candidate is participating.”

Makki again faces Luna in a Republican Primary in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, along with Kevin Hayslett and others. This year, Republicans have a much greater chance to flip the seat for numerous reasons.

Crist isn’t seeking re-election, running instead for Governor and leaving CD 13 open. Redistricting also reshaped the seat to trade downtown St. Petersburg for the north Pinellas suburbs, shifting the district from one Democrat Joe Biden won in 2020 by 4 percentage points to one where voters favored Republican Donald Trump by 7 points.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].

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