A former Kansas Democratic official has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against Republican Amanda Adkins, alleging the congressional candidate skirted campaign finance rules in 2019.
Adkins, a Cerner executive who is challenging Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids in the Kansas 3rd Congressional District, raised more than $150,000 before filing a statement of candidacy with the FEC in August of 2019.
Federal campaign finance rules require candidates to file paperwork with the FEC after raising or expending $5,000 or more.
However, a loophole allows candidates to “test the waters” and raise money for an exploratory campaign before they file. There is no limit to the money a prospective candidates can raise during the exploratory phase, but they must be careful not to present themselves as officially running for office.
Andy Sandler, the former Democratic chair for the 3rd District, alleges in a complaint that Adkins flouted these rules.
The complaint is based in part on a 2019 Kansas City Star article about an email sent to donors on behalf of Adkins from the fundraising firm, High Cotton Consulting. The firm is a subsidiary of Axiom Strategies, the Kansas City firm that has advised Adkins’ campaign.
In an email sent a month before Adkins filed her statement of candidacy, High Cotton referred to Adkins as a candidate and said the firm would be working for her campaign.
“The July 30 email demonstrated that Adkins exited the testing waters period by at least that point,” Sandler’s complaint states.
High Cotton said last year that the email had been sent in error and Adkins campaign maintained that she did not officially side to run until later. Sandler notes in his complaint that Adkins began paying Axiom, High Cotton’s parent company, in September of 2019 shortly after officially filing her campaign paperwork.
Sandler, a Mission resident, said in a phone call that Adkins had raised an “ungodly amount of money” before filing her required paperwork.
“I think that’s basically her thumbing her nose at ethics,” Sandler said. “This just is a cynical attempt by her to skirt the rules and I don’t think that’s particularly fair… It bugged me to see that in typical Republican fashion they take a look at rules and decide that they’re quaint and antiquated.”
Adkins’ campaign rejected Sandler’s criticism and said that she had not decided to officially run for Congress until August of 2019.
“Amanda followed the rules set forth by the FEC when she tested the waters to make a decision about running for Congress. She decided late in August to run for the seat, and filed the appropriate paperwork,” said Adkins’ spokesman Matthew Trail.
The FEC confirmed it received Sandler’s complaint, which he emailed to the agency Friday.
It’s highly unlikely that the FEC, which currently lacks a quorum to issue decisions, acts on the complaint before the November election.
Paul Seamus Ryan, the vice president for policy and litigation of Common Cause, a national watchdog group, told The Star in July that the FEC has never set a specific limit for how much a candidate can raise during the exploratory phase.
“In my opinion, $150,000 pushes the boundaries of the ‘testing the waters’ exemption for a House candidate. It looks like Ms. Adkins had decided to run long before she filed her FEC paperwork, and that she was amassing funds to be used in her campaign. But because there are no bright lines here, it’s very, very unlikely that the FEC would find a violation,” Ryan said in an email.
Ryan noted that he personally filed a complaint against former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, alleging that he violated the same rule in 2015 when he was laying the groundwork for his 2016 presidential campaign and “it’s still sitting, unresolved, before the FEC.”
FEC complaints often proliferate as elections near as competing campaigns and parties scrutinize each other’s finances and actions.
Sandler, who served as the Democratic chair in the congressional district from 2013 to 2019, filed a complaint in 2018 alleging improper coordination by the Kansas Republican Party and Congressional Leadership Fund on an ad attacking Davids.
The complaint was dismissed by the FEC the following year. “You win some, you lose some,” Sandler said.