The campaigns of U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts and the Kansas Republican’s primary challenger are sparring publicly over ethics issues, increasing the acrimony in their already contentious race.
Roberts’ executive campaign manager, Leroy Towns, filed a complaint last week with the Senate Ethics Committee against challenger Milton Wolf because Wolf hasn’t yet filed a required financial disclosure form. Towns asked for an investigation, saying that Wolf’s missing a 30-day deadline to file the form raises questions about whether voters can trust him.
But Wolf spokesman Ben Hartman said the challenger will file the form soon, within a grace period that’s typically given to new Senate candidates. Then, the Wolf campaign cited 16 instances since 2000 in which the Federal Election Commission questioned items in Roberts’ campaign finance reports.
Wolf’s campaign also accused Roberts of abusing his seat on the Senate Ethics Committee in an attempt to intimidate his challenger. Towns said there’s nothing to the allegation and accused Wolf of being willing to “make facts up.”
Roberts, 77, is seeking his fourth, six-year term in the Senate and has worked in Washington as either a congressional aide or a member of Congress for nearly a half-century, a career that had made him an icon in Kansas GOP circles. But Wolf, a 42-year-old Leawood radiologist, is running as a tea party candidate and attacking Roberts as a career politician. The primary is in August.
Hartman said Towns’ complaint was “an attempt to get a cheap headline.”
“It shows that they recognize that Senator Roberts has some very large vulnerabilities,” Hartman said. “It shows that they’re not going to campaign on the issues.”
But Towns, a former Ethics Committee staffer, said the complaint is serious. Towns said the committee’s rules will require Roberts to remove himself from the case if the panel investigates Wolf, adding that the complaint was filed with the panel because that’s the appropriate venue.
The complaint said Wolf is required to file the disclosure form, listing income and their assets “to provide the public an accurate assessment of his financial status.” The Roberts campaign added in a statement, “Transparency and trust are two of the most important aspects of public service.”
Federal law requires a congressional candidate to file the disclosure form within 30 days of becoming a candidate, and Wolf filed a statement of his candidacy on Oct. 23, making the deadline Nov. 22.
“There is no such thing as a grace period,” Towns said. “I think he’s made that up out of thin air.”
The same federal law says that candidates who file their reports more than 30 days after their deadlines must pay a $200 penalty. Also, the committee can grant extensions of deadlines of up to 90 days, and Roberts himself received such an extension last year, according to records available online.
A copy of the Senate’s 542-page ethics manual available online mentions a “grace” period for filers once in discussing the filing deadlines. Hartman said Wolf didn’t formally seek an extension because he plans to file his disclosure form by Dec. 22, taking the extra time to make sure it’s accurate.
Wolf’s campaign also contends the campaign finance issues it cites show that Roberts has “a long pattern of ethics discrepancies.” Towns scoffed at the argument, saying the Wolf campaign is pointing to “clerical” issues and the FEC’s call for the senator’s campaign to correct small errors – something the commission does routinely with most candidates.
“They’re not serious,” Towns said. “If Mr. Wolf is able to stay in the race, he will find that his campaign will have the same things.”
Roberts’ re-election campaign: http://robertsforsenate.com/home/
Wolf’s campaign: http://www.miltonwolf.com/