Another 2016 mystery: Where did all Jill Stein's recount funds go?

This isn’t so much of a whodunit as a wherewentit. A year and a half after raising more than $7 million for quixotic attempts to hold recounts in several states, Green Party Jill Stein still has not provided an accounting for the money or its use. Questions have been raised as to whether it has gone to non-recount-related activities, which would violate campaign finance laws, The Daily Beast reported yesterday:

The last FEC filing from the Stein campaign was for the month of September 2017. And the last update from the campaign itself came in a post on April 20, in which it said it was down to $932,178 in recount funds.

“It is strange that they would just stop filing reports given they were a legitimate, professional campaign, and despite still having more than a million dollars in cash on hand,” Andrew Mayersohn, a researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics, told The Daily Beast.

The question of whether they were still a legitimate campaign when raising those funds is not entirely cut-and-dried. Stein had no particular reason to contest any of these outcomes, being so far out of the running as to be a statistical anomaly in the results. The actual party of standing in these winner-take-all contests should have either been the second-place finisher — Hillary Clinton — or no one at all.

Nevertheless, people poured money into Stein’s coffers, only to find out that they’re not as professional as some thought:

But the opacity surrounding the expenditure of money—combined with the fact that a good chunk of the spending has come after all efforts to recount the vote were terminated—has fed criticism that Stein was more interested in boosting her political operations than in recounting votes. It’s also drawn the ire of regulators. In a May 7, 2018 letter, the FEC warned Stein campaign treasurer Steven Welzer that he was violating federal law by not accounting for half a year of spending.

“The failure to timely file this report may result in civil money penalties, suspension of matching funds, an audit or legal enforcement action,” the letter states, noting there is no grace period.

When raising the funds, the Stein campaign told donors that they planned to spend it all on the recount efforts. Anything left over would go to “promoting voting system reform,” the campaign pledged. There’s only one thing wrong with that, the Daily Beast notes, and that’s campaign finance restrictions on recount contributions. Any other use than the recount could fall into a category of fundraising for another election cycle, which would create another level of reporting for Team Stein while they’re failing to abide by their basic level of reporting.

And on that point, a lot of spending took place well after the recounts were over:

Much of the spending has taken place long since any hope for more recounts came to an end. Of the more than $509,000 spent on staff, more than $300,000 has been spent since February 20, 2017, according to the Stein campaign. The same is true for 87 percent of travel and events spending.

The recount campaign at the beginning looked like a racket to separate fools from their money. It appears to have succeeded in that goal beyond Stein’s wildest dreams. But if she’s using those funds to conduct a new campaign, the FEC needs to conduct an intervention, and/or perhaps turn the issue over to the Department of Justice for review.