- Amanda Makki walks for US House in Florida’s 13th district.
- The FEC recently wrote its campaign about an expensed electricity bill.
- Her campaign blamed confusing rules and said Makki had repaid the money.
A Republican House nominee in Florida may have violated federal campaign laws by using donor money to pay her home’s electric bill.
Amanda Makki’s campaign paid more than $600 to Duke Energy, according to a letter sent to the campaign by the Federal Election Commission last week. The campaign’s financial disclosures also showed cable and internet payments to Spectrum, though the FEC didn’t ask.
The FEC rules prohibit candidates from using donor money for personal use, be it rent, internet at home, cable services, personal travel or to pay a utility bill. The committee has made strict exceptions for cases where candidates use donor money to pay for security at home or on their phones and computers.
The FEC has not fined or otherwise sanctioned Makki’s campaign to date, but could investigate the matter if anyone makes a complaint.
Eric Wang, a lawyer for the Makki campaign, told Insider in an email that the campaign believed they were allowed to use the money based on a “good faith” understanding of the “very confusing” rules. Makki and her campaign use her home office as the only campaign headquarters every day, including to shoot commercials, he said.
“The campaign has used her home for campaign organization and strategy meetings, campaign fundraising, general workspace for campaign staff and volunteers, print materials for her campaign, storage space for campaign materials, campaign media appearances and media production associated with her campaign,” he said.
The scheme actually saves money, Wang said, by cutting overhead and the additional costs the campaign would otherwise have to incur by renting separate office space, especially at a time when rents are rising in Florida.
“The campaign rightly believed it could reimburse some of the utility costs,” Wang said.
Makki refunded the campaign $611.09 for six months of home office use and refunded the campaign for the cable and internet bills, he added.
The FEC only carries out enforcement if campaigns do not address the issues in a letter or are working to correct them. The letter does not penalize the campaign, but gives the Makki campaign a chance to explain what happened or provide additional context.
Makki’s campaign said other items listed as personal expenses, including a GEICO account and Amazon expenses, were incorrectly reported by the former treasurer and would be changed. The campaign treasurer was relieved of his post Monday, according to the files.
“Amanda’s campaign has taken swift action to improve FEC registration and reporting activities, including retaining a new compliance team,” Wang said.
Michael Toner, a partner at Wiley Rein LLP and a former FEC chairman, said it was understandable that some new candidates may not know what all the rules are.
But the restrictions on using campaign money for home expenses are designed to prevent candidates from enriching themselves financially using donor dollars, he said. Candidates would otherwise be able to get rid of their personal expenses, such as cable bills or mortgages, he explained.
“What the FEC focuses on is not using campaign funds to reduce a candidate’s personal financial obligation,” he said.
Makki is an Iranian-American who operates in Florida’s 13th district, currently controlled by Democrat Charlie Crist. Florida’s 13th district seat is open as Crist clears the seat to run for Florida governor against Republican government Ron DeSantis.
Makki faces several opponents in the August 23 primary in Florida, including Anna Paulina Luna, who won the endorsement of former President Donald Trump in April. On March 31, the Makki campaign reported that they had about $514,000 cash on hand, according to FEC records.
Makki previously served as a legislative assistant focusing on health care for GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, later became a partner at K&L Gates, a law and lobbying firm. Makki holds a law degree from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
The Makki campaign said current campaign finance reimbursement rules favor wealthier candidates. Their reasoning: A congressional candidate can request reimbursement of his or her campaign operating out of another piece of real estate the candidate owns, such as an office space, as long as it is not a personal residence.
“This distinction is not intuitive and favors certain wealthy candidates who own investment properties while disapproving of candidates like Amanda, who are not career politicians and are not steeped in the complicated and arbitrary rules of the FEC,” he said.
But “it’s generally advisable not to have a campaign office outside of your own home,” Toner said. “You can have a campaign office outside your own home, but you can’t charge the campaign.”
This story originally ran on May 17, 2022 and has been updated with additional releases.