Congressman Madison Cawthorn on Monday filed his overdue final campaign financial report as required by federal election law, although — to borrow the cliche — a day late and a dollar short. Make that 32 days late and some $304,566.02 short.
Earlier this month, the 27-year-old Republican had been scolded by the Federal Elections Commission for failing to file the report, which details the campaign’s income and outgo. In Cawthorn’s case, there is considerably more of the latter, leaving him in a deep financial hole and under continuing scrutiny by the FEC for possible violations of the law.
The report covered the second quarter of the year, from April 27 through June 30. This was a critical period for Cawthorn because it covered the run-up to the May 17 Republican Party primary election — which he lost — and the weeks after when the financial damage could be tallied.
In addition to anodyne campaign costs, much of the spending repeated a pattern from prior reports: staff lunches at the Hendersonville Chick-fil-A, Papa’s & Beer and Moe’s BBQ, as well as cigars at the Casablanca Tobacconist.
Cawthorn, who became a right-wing wunderkind during his term, raised $4,095,533 — a record for any Western North Carolina candidate and among the highest in the Congress. But he spent $4,199,759, leaving him in a hole some $104,225 deep.
The report showed that much of the money he spent wasn’t actually his to spend. It was money from donors who intended for it to be used in a general election campaign in the presumption that he’d win the GOP nomination. He didn’t, losing to state Sen. Chuck Edwards. So he had to repay all those folks, some $265,071.
The report shows that Cawthorn chipped in $207,858 of his own money to partially cover those refunds, as the law requires. He also raised $87,168 from new donors. This is a pittance in comparison to prior quarters, but it came during a time when Cawthorn was in the news for some controversial behavior (suffice it to say this entailed sex, drugs and explicit videos).
Notably, although the re-election campaign was in a tail-spin in the closing weeks, Cawthorn still paid some buddies for working on his campaign, all of whom were also collecting federal paychecks as members of Cawthorn’s congressional staff. For example, he paid his district director, Harold Weathermann, $5,008. He paid $5,600 to his cousin and traveling companion, Stephen L. Smith, who also worked in the congressional office as a scheduler and ADA consultant.
But it appears one longtime friend, Blake Harp, the congressman’s chief of staff, is among those being stiffed by the campaign. Outside his job with Congress, Harp moonlights as managing partner of a Texas consulting firm called EMP Strategies, which profited handsomely from campaign spending in the earlier reports. But the final report lists EMP Strategies as a creditor in the amount of $183,991.35. Cawthorn also is in debt $33,844 to another Texas consulting firm, Harris Media specializing in helping arch-conservative politicians, recently among them Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Unlike with over-paying donors, Cawthorn can settle that debt for fractions of the total, or even walk away from it altogether without federal penalty.
Harp apparently wasn’t too upset about holding that debt. He joined Cawthorn on August 1, the congressman’s birthday, as they donned commando gear and staged a mock raid to assassinate a mannequin while it was sleeping – as shown in photos posted on Cawthorn’s Instagram account. – Tom Fiedler