The Mysterious Rob Maness FEC Filing Which Is Twisting Everyone In Knots

We had a piece yesterday on Rob Maness’ debacle of an attempt to qualify by petition last week and the surfacing of a report his campaign had filed which showed that he only had $11,000 and change in the bank, and making the rather obvious judgement that Maness’ ride as a U.S. Senate candidate is more or less over and it’s time for him to get out of the race.

That piece, as it turned out, riled up the Maness people in a massive way – so much so that I’m getting phone calls and text messages demanding I take it down. The Maness people got to James Varney, who linked to our piece yesterday since he looked at the same FEC filing and came to something of a related, if not similar, conclusion about Maness’ prospects. Things have become interesting since then.

Here’s Varney yesterday

A contrary opinion came from The Hayride, a conservative Louisiana website, that put out its “(After)Nooner” roughly an hour after the Maness press release. The title of The Hayride’s piece – “Rob Maness is out of money and it now looks like he’s wasting his time” – was hardly the sort of publicity any campaign desires.

What’s more, it comes from an outlet that generally frowns on the decaffeinated brand of conservatism some believe Cassidy embraces. Maness is often labeled “the Tea Party” candidate in the race, and the views of most Tea Party members and The Hayride contributors are often in line.

Riffing off Louisiana qualifying last week, The Hayride publisher Scott McKay wondered why Maness even bothered and delivered a devastating conclusion: “because while it’s been obvious for some time that Maness has no road to victory remaining, the circumstances surrounding his qualifying are such that it’s quite apparent he should have packed in his campaign.”

Maness had said he would qualify through petition, then proved unable to garner enough certified signatures and qualified with a check, McKay noted.

Furthermore, he wrote, while the Maness campaign may be hoping for an infusion of cash from the Senate Conservatives Fund (the same outfit that delivered the helpful poll), it’s not likely to rescue Maness from his monetary dilemma: a paltry $11,000 cash on hand, according to a recent Federal Elections Commission filing.

“No money, no campaign,” was McKay’s rather unassailable conclusion. “What Maness ought to do is get out of the race.”

Varney also made reference to a “poll” by the Senate Conservatives Fund, which is the DC-based funding lifeline for the Maness campaign (we actually like a lot of what SCF does, though in Louisiana they’ve progressed from somewhat misguided to all wet as this campaign has worn on), that showed Maness “surging” with 16 percent of the vote – a doubling of his support from the same poll in June.

The first thing to understand about the SCF poll is that other than reporting Maness has 16 percent of the vote (Mary Landrieu is at 43 and Cassidy is at 32, and Landrieu beats Cassidy 49-43 and Maness 48-44), there is basically zero useful information offered which would prove its validity. It supposedly was of 600 “likely voters” on Aug. 16-18 – and remember those dates, because they’ll be important later in this post – but there is no disclosure of the questions, what the screen is for who’s a likely voter, or what the crosstabs might be. If you’re going to release a poll which has “bombshell” information like your candidate doubling his support in 60 days, you’d want to release as much information on methodology and results as you can so as to prove up the quality of your survey. SCF did none of that, which makes the poll extremely suspicious.

As Varney noted, how does Cassidy beat Maness 2-to-1 in a poll of the jungle primary and yet Maness outperforms Cassidy against Landrieu? That’s peculiar, to say the least.

In any event, the Maness people have been screaming ever since yesterday and in the meantime something curious happened to the link to the FEC report which had Maness at only $11,000 in the bank.

Specifically, the report disappeared off the FEC site. It’s a dead link now. It’s a good thing we were able to get our hands on a downloaded copy; otherwise you guys would just have to take our word for it. You can see the PDF file of the report in question here.

The word the Maness people are pushing is that the $11,000 figure represents the money in only one of their campaign accounts; they have three. And they pointed Varney to another FEC report they filed which says they have $196,000.

We’ll let Varney, writing today, pick up the story from his end…

The reports of retired USAF Col. Rob Maness’ Senate campaign getting by on $11,000 have been greatly exaggerated. Maness’ campaign isn’t swimming in cash, a closer look shows, but it isn’t broke either.

The apparently false lowball figure circulated Monday, first in a post at the conservative website The Hayride and included in a post I had at NOLA.com. The link Monday was to an FEC filing from this month that showed the $11,000 figure.

Late Monday the Maness campaign contacted me and said, “whoa, that number is wrong and besides The Hayride hates us.” I explained the link was to a “docquery.fec.gov” site, but Tuesday morning Team Maness e-mailed me a link to the same site that shows the campaign has $196,407 cash on hand.

Meanwhile, the previous link has gone dead. I e-mailed The Hayride publisher, Scott McKay, who replied he had not figured out why the link had expired.

McKay did note, however, the link was searchable for days and he blamed the FEC for removing it, in what he insists is “a significant departure from the norm.” McKay stood by his overall analysis of Maness’ campaign, which he considers one funded by out-of-state groups and individuals.

McKay stood by his contention Maness cannot win the race against the incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

The FEC said Tuesday it could not explain the dead link and, absent a screen shot, it would be impossible to trace. Here, however, is the most up-to-date link from the FEC that shows the same $196K number.

We love Jim to death, so let’s not let what follows be seen as sniping at him. There is a disagreement here and we want to set him straight – which we know can be done because he’s a reasonable guy who has a hell of a tough job holding back the barbarians who populate the Times-Picayune newsroom.

So here goes: the Maness people are selling Varney a line of BS. There is no chance they have $196,000 in the bank – or at least as of August 22, or Friday, there’s no chance that’s true.

Why do we say that? Because the “most up-to-date line from the FEC” they pointed Varney to is a copy of Maness’ pre-primary report. Here’s an image of the money page from that report, with notations we’ve made for clarity…

maness fec doc

Maness’ campaign said they had 196K in the bank as of August 2, and by their own admission they were running through $316,000 in the month of July. Now – certainly they could have dialed back their spending in August and perhaps not all of it is monthly overhead.

Follow us here, though – in the runup to specific periods in an election cycle the FEC requires a campaign to report all donations at or above $1000 within 48 hours of receipt. And Maness did so. On August 5, August 8, August 14 and August 22 it filed such reports – with the reported donations adding up to $19,400.

It could well be that Maness is in the midst of a fundraising renaissance with donors coming out of the woodwork to donate $999.99 or less, but very few campaigns work that way. Campaign fundraising works on something similar to the 80/20 rule for the most part; you’re going to get most of your money from the donors who have it. Unless Maness has turned into Marco Rubio or Rand Paul overnight he’s not likely getting deluged with hundreds of thousands of dollars in small donations in August.

So how much money would Maness have needed to raise to overcome the amount of cash he was spending? Well, the mysterious FEC disclosure which we saved from destruction gave us something of a clue. An image from that disclosure…

Maness Filing Aug 18th-3

So that’s $41,000 in expenses from just 10 days – what Maness has spent since August 14 is a mystery to us. This would present a rather significant comedown from the rate of spending the campaign was on in July, but $41,000 in 10 days is $123,000 in a month.

Based on what they’ve reported of their fundraising and what we can see of their spending, it’s a lot easier to believe they’re at $11,000 – bear in mind, of course, that the $11,000 figure came from the Maness campaign, not from me – than at $196,000 like they claim.

The other line we hear from the Maness campaign, courtesy of their social media surrogates, is that they’ve got three bank accounts and this “errant” FEC report only covers one of them.

Why on earth would a campaign have multiple accounts? There is a perfectly normal explanation for it, which is this – if you take more than $2,600 in contributions from a single donor, you can’t spend that money all at once. The FEC makes you hold that money in reserve and spend it in three distinct periods. For the purposes of this race, the first period would have been from the start of the campaign to the end of qualifying, which was Friday. The second period would be from last Friday to Election Day in November, and the third period would be from the November election day to the runoff election.

Rob Maness has not taken a whole lot of donations above $2,600. There is no reason why he would have reserve bank accounts overflowing with cash while the one campaign account was down to $11,000. And there is also no reason why he would be spending money for campaign expenses out of auxiliary accounts prior to qualifying.

We have a theory of what happened here, one we can’t confirm until we hear back from the FEC. The theory, though, goes like this: The FEC report which has since disappeared off the commission’s website was actually an internal document rather than a 48-hour report and it was filed by mistake by the treasurer. Once it was filed, the campaign panicked in the knowledge it might get out that they had $11,000, and they went to the FEC to get it pulled. Which, in a departure from usual practice, the FEC did – because that spreadsheet with expenses is not an actual FEC 48-hour form.

But there is no reason why the Maness camp would be so huffy about what they’ve actually got in the bank that they would want to get that document taken down and then sell Varney on the idea that a report dated August 2 has more up-to-date info than a report dated August 15. What you’d do instead is to put out a statement clarifying the “errant” FEC disclosure and explaining that “X” is the current figure for what’s in the bank.

That they haven’t done so makes it sound like they’re trying to keep the numbers under wraps, at least for a while.

And given that rather suspicious SCF poll, our other theory is that the Maness internal document which made its way to the FEC, perhaps in error, was legitimate – and a crisis call was made to SCF on or before Aug. 15 along the lines that they were out of money and needed help immediately. So SCF went in the field on Aug. 16-18 and did that poll which – surprise! – showed that Maness was “surging” and all he really needs is your money and he can win this thing. So the next time we see financials out of the Maness campaign they’ll have more than $11,000 in the bank, they hope, and they’ll poo-poo the idea they ever were so short-stacked.

We already know that 90 percent of Maness’ money is coming from out of state, where people have no idea what the situation is on the ground in Louisiana. SCF’s donors in New York and Arizona and wherever else aren’t aware that Maness doesn’t have a single endorsement from an elected public official in Louisiana, or that his campaign staff is all from outside the state – or even that Maness himself is not from Louisiana. They just want the most conservative candidates possible, so they’ll write a check to help the guy in Louisiana they’re told fits the bill.

If that’s who’s funding your campaign, you want as tight a set of controls on information about how things are going as possible. And that’s why we’re seeing the screaming we’re seeing.

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