October 18, 2021
(Oregon Public Broadcasting) – As he prepares another bid to unseat Oregon’s longest-tenured congressman, Alek Skarlatos is facing questions about his campaign’s finances.
In a complaint filed Monday with the Federal Elections Commission, a political action committee is accusing Skarlatos, a Republican running in Oregon’s fourth congressional district, of inappropriately accepting $65,000 from a nonprofit he founded.
“Federal candidates cannot use dark money groups as slush funds for their political campaigns,” said Tiffany Muller, the president of End Citizens United, the Democrat-affiliated PAC that filed the complaint. “Skarlatos’ dark money donation to his campaign is not only self-serving and corrupt but does not fall within the bounds of the law.”
The complaint follows a report this month by the Associated Press, which detailed how Skarlatos founded the nonprofit 15:17 Trust in 2021, after losing to U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat, in the previous year’s election. The organization’s name is a reference to an incident, memorialized in the film “The 15:17 to Paris,” in which Skarlatos and two other American soldiers famously prevented a terrorist attack on a European train.
According to the AP report, Skarlatos founded the organization to address veterans’ issues, and used $93,000 in unspent funds from his 2020 campaign to give the group its start. But the organization has shown few outward signs of activity. In May, soon after Skarlatos announced he’d make another run at Congress, his campaign reported a $65,000 check from the 15:17 Trust in the form of a “return of charitable contribution.”
End Citizens United says that the “return” actually amounts to an impermissible contribution from a 501c4 organization, a type of nonprofit sometimes derided as “dark money” groups because they do not need to publicly report their donors. While the FEC has approved some such returns in the past, End Citizens United argues that the facts of Skarlatos’ transaction go beyond the bounds of what the commission has found acceptable.
“Skarlatos broke campaign finance laws when he funneled campaign cash to a dark money group he controls and then transferred money from the group to his new campaign,” End Citizens United said in a release.
An inquiry to Skarlatos’ campaign was not immediately returned on Monday afternoon. But Ross Pergason, Skarlatos’ campaign manager, previously told the AP that the transactions were “completely legal.”
In its complaint, End Citizens United has asked the FEC to fine Skarlatos $186,000, double the amount he initially steered toward his nonprofit. In fiscal year 2021, the average fine handed down by the SEC was $3,937.
FEC records show Skarlatos’ campaign was fined $3,539 earlier this year, for failing to provide appropriate notice of campaign finance contributions.
Since helping prevent the terrorist attack in 2015, Skarlatos, 29, has gained a degree of fame, playing himself in a film based on the incident, “The 15:17 to Paris,” and appearing on “Dancing with the Stars.” He’s seen less success politically, losing a bid for the Douglas County Board of Commissioners in 2018 before running the competitive but failed race against DeFazio in 2020.
He could face a tougher test in 2022, if new congressional districts passed by Oregon Democrats withstand a legal challenge. That updated plan bolstered Democrats’ numbers in the fourth congressional district, giving DeFazio or any other Democratic nominee a measure of safety.
According to the latest campaign finance filings, Skarlatos’ new campaign had $334,100 on hand at the end of September. Both he and DeFazio spent upwards of $5 million in the 2020 race.