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U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins of Kansas forgives $225,100 loan to his 2018 campaign

Steve Watkins wins Kansas 2nd District: ‘I’m not an outsider anymore’

Steve Watkins thanks supporters after defeating Paul Davis to win the Kansas 2nd Congressional District seat Tuesday.
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Steve Watkins thanks supporters after defeating Paul Davis to win the Kansas 2nd Congressional District seat Tuesday.

U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins of Kansas has forgiven $225,100 in loans he made to his campaign in the 2018 election cycle, according to a letter filed with the Federal Election Commission this week.

The freshman Republican had given his campaign nearly half a million in a series of interest-free loans in 2017, during a hard-fought GOP primary for an open seat in Kansas 2nd Congressional District.

Watkins’ self-funded loans represented a substantial amount of his declared wealth at the time, which was somewhere between $440,053 and $2.7 million, according to the personal financial disclosure forms federal candidates must file. Such forms only give a broad range of income.

Federal campaign finance rules allow candidates to lend unlimited amounts of their own money to their campaigns.

A candidate can repay the full value of personal loans using contributions made before the election, for up to 20 days after the election, said Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform for the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C.

“But they can only use funds raised after the election to repay up to $250,000 of outstanding personal loans,” Fischer said. “So basically, 20 days after an election, a candidate must forgive any personal loans to the campaign that exceed $250,000.”

That appears to be what Watkins did. He had lent his campaign at total of $475,100, but his campaign only had $4,625 cash on hand 20 days after the election in November 2018.

In March, the Federal Election Commission sent a letter to the Watkins campaign, noting that if loans were not repaid by the twenty-day deadline, the FEC would have to treat the amount over $250,000 as a contribution from the candidate, which could not be repaid.

Watkins’ campaign treasurer responded this week by notifying the agency that the candidate had forgiven $225,100 — the amount that exceeded $250,000.

Watkins can repay himself the remaining balance of $250,000 in the future from campaign funds, should he decide to do so.

Watkins’ father, Steven Watkins Sr., a Topeka physician, separately sank more than $765,000 into a super political action committee to help his son win the 7-way GOP primary in 2018.

That PAC had $6,115.40 cash on hand as of the end of last year.

Super PACs can raise unlimited funds but cannot coordinate directly with candidates.