The Federal Election Commission, or FEC, has released its findings in the 2010 complaint filed by former Congressional candidate Scott Eckersley. As KSMU’s Jennifer Davidson reports, the FEC traced fraudulent email and Twitter accounts used to spread false or negative information about Eckersley to a former Springfield man.
Eckersley filed the complaint after a fake email was sent to local media in his name just days before the November, 2010 election; that email falsely claimed that he had dropped out of the race. At least one local television station fell for the hoax and ran the story as fact. Eckersley ran as a Democrat against Republican candidate Billy Long and Libertarian candidate Kevin Craig. Long handily won the 7thCongressional District seat and now serves as the Congressman for southwest Missouri.
In his complaint, Eckersley alleged that Long may have been involved in the hoax; he also alleged that Patrick Binning, then a political consultant with LakeFront Strategies, was involved.
The Commission found that Binning, a former Springfield man, was – quote – “solely responsible for sending the fake press release, and that he was not an agent or employee of any federal candidate.”
The Commission also said it had no reason to believe that Long had any knowledge of the fake press release, and that the Congressman himself appears to have had no part in sending it.
According to the final FEC report, Binning admitted to sending the fraudulent press release, and to creating two Twitter accounts in Eckersley’s name to send out negative information about the candidate. The report says Binning told investigators he was an acquaintance of Long’s, and that he had gone to school with Long’s daughters— but also that he acted independently.
And that, according to the federal law, is the key: the law itself prohibits federal candidates—and their “employees” or “agents”—from fraudulently misrepresenting themselves, or any other candidate, in a way that would be damaging to that other candidate.
But the statute doesn’t address everyday folks who aren’t part of a campaign. So, since the FEC did not find that Binning worked as an “agent” or “employee” of Long’s campaign, Binning did not violate the FEC’s regulations, or the Federal Election Campaign Act.
We reached Scott Eckersley by phone. He said he’s not surprised at the findings, but he is disappointed that the investigation didn’t subpoena phone records.
“I’ll just let anybody go ahead and read this report, then read the facts, and find out who this individual was, and then let them make their own conclusions. I’d be hard pressed to see that there wasn’t some calculation, some connection going on here between Patrick Binning and Long’s campaign,” Eckersley said.
Greenwood Laboratory School in Springfield confirms that both Binning and Long’s daughters attended school there. According to the FEC report, Binning told FEC investigators that he never received any money from Long, nor from Long’s campaign.
Eckersley says he might look into filing a civil case.
KSMU tried by email and phone to reach Patrick Binning for a comment, but we did not hear back. We also reached out to Congressman Long for comment; Long’s press secretary, Keith Beardslee, responded with the statement: “The official office cannot comment on campaign matters.”
Under the FEC’s rules, (US Code Title 2, Chapter 14, Section 441(h)), it is illegal to fraudulently misrepresent a federal candidate. Any candidate, or agent or employee of a candidate who is found guilty of doing so could face steep fines or jail time.
For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Davidson.
To read the complete FEC findings on this case, click here, then click the "Search" button at the bottom of the page to retrieve documents related to case #6427.
Below are other related KSMU stories:
Eckersley Says Withdrawl Email a Hoax, Blames Incident on Long (Oct. 29, 2010)