WASHINGTON -- Former 2012 Republican presidential candidate and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) broke campaign finance rules by directing a $1 million check from a donor to a super PAC backing his candidacy, according to a complaint filed on Wednesday by government watchdog groups. The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 filed a joint complaint with the FEC against Santorum for allegedly directing a $1 million contribution from energy executive Bill Doré to Red White And Blue Fund, a super PAC run by former Santorum staffers. While a candidate like Santorum can ask a donor to give money to a super PAC, it is a violation of campaign finance laws to direct or solicit a contribution above the legal limit of $5,000. Red White And Blue Fund was instrumental to Santorum's unexpected success in the Republican presidential primaries. Santorum's campaign was short on money for most of the primary season, but the super PAC -- powered by contributions from Doré and Wyoming investor Foster Friess -- was able to spend enough money to help Santorum eke out a win in the Iowa caucuses and to push him into position as eventual Republican nominee Mitt Romney's chief competition. The complaint stems from an article by The Sunlight Foundation's Keenan Steiner wherein Doré described a dinner he attended with Santorum. According to Steiner, Doré initially said that he told Santorum that he wanted to make a $1 million contribution to his campaign, an amount far above the legal limit. Santorum, according to the initial recount of the dinner, then told Doré about the Red White And Blue Fund. Doré, however, attempted to walk back the story after the first telling. "I don't want to get [Santorum] in any sort of problem. I would not want to compromise his future," Doré told Steiner. On a follow-up call with Steiner, Doré stated that he did not receive information about the super PAC from Santorum, but rather from his campaign aides. Federal campaign finance laws also make it illegal for the aides working for a candidate's campaign to direct contributions above the legal limit to a super PAC. A staffer for Patriot Voices, the nonprofit launched by Santorum after his 2012 presidential campaign, did not immediately return a request for comment. The watchdog groups behind the complaint are not buying Doré's backtracking. “Mr. Doré’s account of his interaction with Mr. Santorum and his staff, if true, reveals a clear violation of federal campaign finance law,” Paul Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel, said in a statement. “Federal law prohibits candidates and their staff from directing more than $5,000 to a super PAC and either Mr. Santorum or his staff seemingly directed a $1 million contribution to the Red, White and Blue Fund.” Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer said in a statement, “If the statements of Bill Doré are correct and Rick Santorum or his aides directed Doré’s $1 million contribution to the Super PAC supporting Santorum’s presidential campaign, this would be a clear violation of federal campaign finance law.” These prohibitions on soliciting and directing contributions above the legal limit for an entity separate from the campaign were enacted in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, better known as the McCain-Feingold law after the chief Senate sponsors of the bill. The bill restricted candidates and their aides or agents from soliciting or directing contributions above the $5,000 individual limit, in order to stop the practice of candidate-solicited large contributions to the soft-money accounts of political party committees. The restrictions on soliciting or directing excessive donations for outside groups were upheld by the Supreme Court in McConnell v. FEC. After the 2010 Citizens United ruling and a subsequent lower court decision spurred the creation of super PACs, the FEC ruled that candidates could solicit contributions for a super PAC -- so long as they limited those direct solicitations to the $5,000 individual contribution limit.
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