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Conservative group files FEC complaint against Patrick Murphy, super PAC

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@ByKristenMClark

A conservative watchdog group wants the Federal Election Commission to investigate Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy and a super PAC supporting him that's funded mostly by Murphy's father.

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, or FACT, said it lodged an official complaint with the FEC in a letter dated Friday.

"Murphy's super PAC has been primarily funded by Murphy's own company and a family member with whom he has financial ties, which appears to be unlawful coordination between a candidate and his super PAC," the group wrote.

MORE: Read FACT's complaint

Murphy's campaign declined to comment on Monday about the complaint.

It previously denied accusations of illegal coordination when the Herald/Times reported last month on Murphy's father's connections to the super PAC, called "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class."

Candidates are prohibited from coordinating with super PACS; they won't even acknowledge the existence of supportive super PACs for fear of that confirming allegations of coordination.

"Floridians for a Strong Middle Class" was formed in spring 2015 -- 38 days after Murphy declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio.

Murphy, a congressman from Jupiter, has bemoaned the influence of super PACs in modern elections and part of his Senate campaign is emphasizing his support for campaign finance reform. However, he has not disavowed the super PAC supporting him nor his father's financial contributions to it.

Through himself and his company, Coastal Construction Group, Thomas Murphy Jr. has given $500,000 to "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class," as of March 31. The donations accounted for more than half of the super PAC's income by that point.

MORE: "The financial muscle behind Patrick Murphy’s Senate bid: Dad"

The donations came while Murphy owns between $1 million and $5 million worth of stock in Coastal, a private, family company.

When the Herald/Times reported this last month, Murphy's campaign denied any coordination and said it "follows the letter and spirit of the law."

On Monday, as with Politico -- which first reported the existence of FACT's complaint -- the campaign referred the Herald/Times back to a paragraph from the Herald/Times' April story, which read:

When asked whether the family shareholders were consulted about the contribution, Coastal Vice Chairman Dan Whiteman told the Herald Times on Tuesday that Thomas Murphy Jr. "personally directed the contribution."

FACT, nonetheless, alleges Patrick Murphy is "using his own company to enrich his super PAC," citing the congressman's stock in Coastal as grounds for that claim.

The D.C.-based FACT is a conservative watchdog group that primarily targets Democrats.

FACT is the same organization that, last summer and fall, lodged ethics complaints against Murphy's primary opponent -- fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando. Those complaints yielded findings in April from the Office of Congressional Ethics that Grayson potentially violated federal law and congressional rules by managing a hedge fund and possibly overlapped that with his congressional duties.

OpenSecrets.org reported that FACT's funding "comes entirely from a conservative donor-advised fund called DonorsTrust, which means it could come from anywhere." The website said Charles Koch is among the contributors to DonorsTrust.

Grayson's campaign sent out a press release this afternoon to highlight FACT's complaint against Murphy. Last fall, however, a campaign spokesman called FACT a "a right-wing group that apparently has nothing better to do" when it was lodging ethics complaints against Grayson.

The FEC could not confirm to the Herald/Times on Monday afternoon that it had received FACT's complaint about Murphy. An FEC spokesman said that could mean either the agency has yet to receive the complaint or that the agency is still in the process of validating it to see if it's in proper form.

If the complaint is deemed valid, Murphy's campaign would be notified and given a chance to respond.

Until a complaint is resolved, the FEC is required under law to keep its review confidential.

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