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UPDATED Carlos Curbelo blames 'glitch' for omitting or mislabeling $93K in campaign finance report


Carlos Curbelo's congressional campaign omitted or mislabeled $93,000 in contributions from special interests in finance report last month because of what the Miami Republican called an unintentional software "glitch."

The campaign revealed the significant changes in an amended report filed this week -- nearly two weeks after submitting the original quarterly report to the Federal Election Commission.

The $93,000 came from 40 conservative political action committees. Curbelo's original Oct. 15 report listed $40,500 in PAC contributions. His Oct. 28 amended report bumped up that number to $133,500. 

As a result of the errors, Curbelo's total contributions were revised upward to $472,000 for the three-month reporting period, up from $420,000. His cash on hand went up to $555,000 from $505,000.

At first, it seemed that the entire $93,000 had been missing from Curbelo's report. His campaign explained Saturday that some of the contributions had been reported but mislabeled as coming from individuals.

Curbelo attributed the problems Friday to a software switch that didn't go well. His campaign moved to a higher-end program from a more basic one available to campaigns at no charge.

"In the conversion, there was a problem, and we had to re-file," he said, calling the incident a "data glitch."

Among the omitted contributions were $5,000 from firebrand and former Plantation Rep. Allen West's PAC. There were also omissions from far less controversial contributors, such as $2,000 from popular Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Among the mislabeled contributions were $5,000 from KochPAC, a group run by billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch.

Democratic incumbent Rep. Joe Garcia has pointed to the Kochs as evidence that support from big-moneyed right-wing groups could leave Curbelo beholden to donors if he were elected Tuesday. Garcia has received extensive contributions from liberal PACs, including labor unions, but has benefited less from outside groups than Curbelo has.

"This is nothing new for Mr. Curbelo, who has already shown he has a history of putting himself before the people of South Florida," Garcia spokesman Miguel Salazar said in a statement Saturday. He referred in part to Curbelo's refusal to disclose the clients of Capitol Gains, the government and public relations firm run by Curbelo but owned by his wife.

The campaign-finance trouble comes very late in the race. More than 75,000 district voters, the majority registered Republican, have already cast their ballots.

Candidates routinely file amended financial reports to correct various errors and omissions. But the amendments usually amount to a few thousand dollars here and there, as do some filed this election cycle by Garcia.

A $93,000 change especially so close to Tuesday's election, could raise questions from the FEC if it considers the omission a possible attempt to mislead voters as to the sources of Curbelo's campaign funds. The agency can choose to investigate candidate's reports on its own or do so after receiving an outside complaint.

"FEC Enforcement Division would presume that the omissions were made to obtain a strategic advantage," Brett Kappel, a federal campaign-finance attorney in Washington D.C., said in an email. 

Campaigns are required to use their "best effort" to properly report their fundraising and expenditures, Kappel said. FEC rules explicitly state that "failure to use Commission- or vendor-provided software properly" does not meet the best-effort standard -- presumably because a campaign experiencing computer trouble could still send in a report filled out by hand, for example.

"Their biggest problem is the length of time it took them to file an amended report," Kappel said. "Private vendors like Aristotle [the higher-end program Curbelo's campaign switched to] deal with these conversion issues all the time. The maximum credible delay would be a day -- not two weeks." 

Curbelo has run on a message of ethics, hammering Garcia for a pair of criminal investigations, including one that resulted with his former chief of staff going to jail. Before Garcia, the Westchester-to-Key West 26th congressional district was represented by Republican David Rivera, who as a state lawmaker ran afoul of campaign finance rules, according to the Florida Commission on Ethics.

On Friday, Curbelo said he takes responsibility for his campaign's conduct, but noted his treasurer has not received an information request from the federal agency, at least not yet. He attributed that to his campaign keeping the feds apprised of the situation.

"The FEC was aware," he said. "They knew it was a vendor issue."

This post has been rewritten, and the headline updated, to reflect that some of the PAC money was mislabeled and not left off Curbelo's original report.