WASHINGTON — If Rep. Madison Cawthorn doesn’t turn in his campaign finance report by Sunday, federal election regulators will deem it so late that there’s no hope of receiving it.
And the regulatory agency has already put Cawthorn on notice that he’s racking up a hefty fine for taking his time.
Debbie Chacona, assistant staff director with the Federal Election Commission, addressed the matter with Cawthorn in a letter dated Aug. 1. Normally, such a letter would go to a candidate’s treasurer, but Cawthorn, a one-term congressman, gave himself that position not long after he lost his reelection in the May primary.
“The civil money penalty calculation for late reports does not include a grace period and begins on the day following the due date for the report,” Chacona told Cawthorn.
The report was due on July 15.
Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, discussed with McClatchy the importance of these reports.
“From a legal perspective, it is to make sure that somebody is following the law, which clearly he’s not by failing to file on time,” Cooper said. “That’s an indicator of immature behavior from an elected member of Congress.”
He added that these reports show what candidates do with donors’ money.
“Campaign accounts do not simply appear out of thin air,” Cooper said. “They are given to them by sometimes PACs and special interest groups, but also regular people and if Madison Cawthorn is not willing to show where he spent his contributors’ money, it does show a disregard for their interests.”
Cawthorn’s spokesman Luke Ball has left Cawthorn’s staff and referred all questions to the email of Cawthorn’s chief of staff, Blake Harp, who did not respond to emailed questions from McClatchy.
The last six months of Cawthorn’s political career have been tumultuous..
State Sen. Chuck Edwards received the Republican nomination for Cawthorn’s congressional seat in the North Carolina primary after a series of scandals plagued the one-rising Republican star. He is currently under an ethics investigation regarding allegations of insider trading involving the cryptocurrency “Let’s Go Brandon” meme coin.
He is facing several traffic-related charges, most notably driving while his license was revoked. He upset his colleagues after telling a podcast host that members of Congress have orgies and snort “key bumps” of cocaine. A video leaked just days before the election showed Cawthorn naked and what he called “being crass” in bed with a friend.
And those are just the highlights.
Much of his trouble began in March after he called Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, “a thug” and his government “evil,” as Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war against Ukraine.
Thomas Datwyler once served as Cawthorn’s treasurer. Datwyler is the original treasurer for Right Women PAC, a conservative organization looking to elect Republican, pro-Trump women. The group was founded by Debra Meadows, the wife of former 11th District Rep. Mark Meadows.
Cawthorn replaced Meadows in Congress after Meadows resigned to become former President Donald Trump’s chief of staff. The men have been at odds since Cawthorn beat out Debra Meadows’ friend in the Republican primary.
Datwyler no longer works for Right Women PAC and was replaced by Cleta Mitchell, another close associate of the Meadows family, who was on a call with Trump when he tried to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to find enough votes to change Georgia’s election results.
Mitchell is now helping Rep. Ted Budd raise money for his Senate campaign to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. Budd’s wife, Amy Kate, serves as an advisory member to Right Women PAC.
Cawthorn replaced Datwyler with himself.
Brett Kappel, an attorney with Harmon Curran who focuses on campaign finance, lobbying and government ethics law cases, said it is not unusual for a candidate to become his own treasurer as a campaign is winding down.
“But he does so at substantial personal risk,” Kappel said. “The treasurer is personally liable for the contents of the reports they file with the FEC. Submitting false information to the FEC is a felony and the Justice Department routinely prosecutes those false statement cases.”
According to the FEC website, the federal agency uses four factors when determining its penalty for failing to file a FEC report on time, or at all.
—How close the deadline falls to an election.
—If the report came late or wasn’t filed at all.
—The amount of activity that might be on the late or nonfiled report.
—The number of prior violations.
“According to the FEC’s Administrative Fine calculator, Cawthorn will be assessed an administrative fine of $12,717 assuming he is deemed to be a nonfiler and had no previous administrative fines,” Kappel said.
It’s unclear whether Cawthorn has received prior fines from the FEC, but he does have two other warnings from the agency in his reports, neither of which were for being late.