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Feds say Cantwell violated election law

01:46 PM PST on Thursday, February 19, 2004

Associated Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., violated federal election law by failing to disclose large loans to her campaign just prior to her Senate election in 2000, the Federal Election Commission has ruled.

In late 2000, as she entered the home stretch of a closely fought race against three-term incumbent Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., Cantwell arranged two large bank loans totaling about $3.8 million.

Under FEC rules, Cantwell should have disclosed the complete terms of both credit lines before the November election.

But she didn't do so until Jan. 30, 2001 - after getting two letters from the FEC requesting additional information.

The loans were a key part of Cantwell's largely self-financed campaign against Gorton, which she won by just 2,229 votes out of nearly 2.5 million votes cast. In all Cantwell spent more than $10 million of her own money on the 2000 campaign - nearly 90 percent of the overall $11.5 million she spent on the race.

The FEC sent Cantwell a letter of admonishment, reminding her of the law requiring timely disclosure of loan reports, but took no other action.

The Jan. 13 ruling was made public Thursday by the National Legal and Policy Center, a watchdog group that filed a complaint against Cantwell three years ago.

The group's chairman, Kenneth Boehm, said it was ironic that Cantwell ran as an advocate of campaign finance reform "while keeping millions of dollars in loan information secret from Washington voters until after the election. Put simply, she won by less that one-tenth of 1 percent of the vote while breaking federal election law."

Boehm said he was disappointed that the FEC took nearly three years to resolve the complaint, which was filed in April 2001 following an Associated Press story about the two loans.

Cantwell's office could not immediately be reached for comment.