Despite coughing up $1.7 million of his own money to clear a spending mistake in his 2020 primary campaign against Sen. Ed Markey, former Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy has been slapped with a $35,000 fine by the Federal Election Commission.

That the commission didn’t know about the error until the Democrat’s committee pointed it out didn’t matter to the agency, which voted 4-2 to punish Kennedy.


“No good deed goes unpunished,” said GOP FEC Commissioner Sean Cooksey in a statement. He and fellow Republican Commissioner Trey Trainor voted against the fine, while the FEC’s third Republican, Allen Dickerson, joined with the Democrats.

“The reasoned exercise of prosecutorial discretion is essential to the effective and just administration of our campaign-finance laws. Under these circumstances, I believe the most just outcome was to dismiss,” said Cooksey.

At issue was the Kennedy campaign’s spending of about $1.5 million in general election funds for the primary against Markey, which Kennedy lost. FEC bars using general election donations for the primary race.

After his loss, the campaign discovered the error, and Kennedy forked over $1.7 million in loans and contributions to pay donors back, even though technically it was the responsibility of his campaign committee. He included enough to cover the costs of staff tapped to fix the error.

“He had no obligation to do so — candidates are not personally liable for campaign debts or civil penalties. But because of Kennedy’s supererogatory contribution, the committee was able to timely make all required refunds to its contributors,” said the FEC legal office in its call for the fine.

Kennedy’s team argued that his quick discovery of the error and his payment to cover the donations that were improperly used should have been enough to avoid punishment.

But the FEC legal office said that rules are rules and called for the $35,000 fine, which Kennedy's campaign committee paid.

Cooksey’s call for forgiveness follows past moves by some GOP commissioners eager to see campaigns handle their own errors instead of dropping the regulatory agency’s hammer.

“The commission should have dismissed this matter as an exercise of prosecutorial discretion. Considering the committee’s diligence and forthrightness in identifying and reporting the mistake, as well as the steps taken by Kennedy personally to redress the committee’s error and to reimburse contributors, I concluded the committee had already faced sufficient consequences. Moreover, I believe a discretionary dismissal would have encouraged other candidates to take similar steps to ameliorate their campaigns’ mistakes, rather than abandoning their often-insolvent committees after an electoral loss to the detriment of their contributors,” he wrote.

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