Amanda Makki is running for US House in Florida's 13th District.
The FEC recently wrote her campaign about an expensed electric bill.
Her campaign blamed confusing rules and said Makki refunded the money.
A Republican US House candidate in Florida potentially violated federal campaign laws by using donor funds to pay for her home's electric bill.
Amanda Makki's campaign paid more than $600 to Duke Energy, according to a letter the Federal Election Commission sent the campaign last week. The campaign's financial disclosures also showed cable and internet payments to Spectrum, though the FEC didn't ask about them.
FEC rules prohibit candidates from using donor funds for personal use, whether it be for rent, home internet, cable service, personal travel, or to pay for an energy bill. The commission has made narrow exemptions for cases in which candidates use donor funds to pay for security at home or on their phones and computers.
The FEC has not fined or otherwise penalized Makki's campaign to date but could investigate the matter if someone filed a complaint.
Eric Wang, an attorney for the Makki campaign, told Insider in an email that the campaign had thought they were allowed to use the funds based on a "good faith" understanding of the "highly confusing" rules. Makki and her campaign use her home office every day as its only campaign headquarters, including to shoot campaign commercials, he said.
"The campaign has used her home for campaign organizational and strategy meetings, campaign fundraising, general work space for campaign staff and volunteers, printing materials for her campaign, storage space for campaign materials, campaign media appearances, and media production associated with her campaign," he said.
The arrangement actually saves money, Wang said, by limiting overhead expenditures as well as additional costs the campaign would otherwise have to take on by renting a separate office space — particularly at a time when Florida rents are soaring.
"The campaign legitimately believed it could reimburse for a portion of the utility costs it incurred," Wang said.
Makki has refunded the campaign $611.09 for six months of home office usage and has reimbursed the campaign for the cable and internet bills, he added.
The FEC only takes enforcement if campaigns don't address the issues in a letter or work to correct them. The letter isn't penalizing the campaign but instead gives the Makki campaign the opportunity to explain what happened or provide additional context.
Makki's campaign said that other items listed as personal expenses, including a GEICO bill and Amazon expenses, were improperly reported by the former treasurer and would be amended. The campaign's treasurer was removed from the position on Monday, according to filings.
"Amanda's campaign has taken prompt measures to enhance its FEC recordkeeping and reporting operations, including retaining a new compliance team," Wang said.
Michael Toner, a partner at Wiley Rein LLP and former FEC chairman, said it was understandable that some first-time candidates might not know what all the rules are.
But the restrictions on using campaign cash for home expenses are designed to prevent candidates from financially enriching themselves using donors' dollars, he said. Candidates could otherwise offload their personal expenses such as cable bills or mortgages, he explained.
"What the FEC is focusing on is not using campaign funds to reduce a personal financial obligation that a candidate has," he said.
Makki is an Iranian-American running in Florida's 13th District, which is currently held by Democrat Charlie Crist. The seat in Florida's 13th District is open because Crist is vacating the seat to run for Florida governor against Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Makki faces several opponents in Florida's August 23 primary, including Anna Paulina Luna, who in April won former President Donald Trump's endorsement. As of March 31, the Makki campaign reported having about $514,000 cash on hand, according to FEC records.
Makki previously served as legislative assistant focused on healthcare for GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and later became a partner at K&L Gates, a law and lobbying firm. Makki has a law degree from Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
The Makki campaign said current campaign finance reimbursement rules favor wealthier candidates. Their reasoning: a congressional candidate may seek reimbursement from his or her campaign is operating out of operating out of another piece of real estate the candidate owns, such as an office space, so long as it's not a personal residence.
"This distinction is not intuitive and favors certain wealthy candidates who own investment properties while disfavoring candidates like Amanda who are not career politicians and are not steeped in the FEC's intricate and arbitrary rules," he said.
But "it's generally advisable not to seek to have a campaign office out of your own home," Toner said. "You can have a campaign office out of your own home but you can't charge the campaign."
This story originally ran on May 17, 2022, and has been updated to include additional expenses.
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