CD5 Flashpoint: Eustace Zaps Lonegan with FEC Ethics Complaint as Republican Challenger Counterattacks

An ally of U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5), former Assemblyman Tim Eustace, this month filed a formal ethics complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, who is vying in the Republican Primary to go up against Gottheimer in the 2018 general.

The FEC subsequently dismissed the complaint.

On April 2, when he was still an assemblyman, Eustace fired off a letter to FEC Chairman Steven T. Walther, claiming substantive and direct evidence that Lonegan is in violation of several FEC regulations and House Ethics Committee guidelines. Notably, he argued that Lonegan may have also violated the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 (EIGA), by failing to disclose any earned income from Courageous Conservatives PAC on his Personal Financial Disclosure.

Mike Proto, spokesman for the Lonegan Campaign, laughed off the letter.

“This comical FEC complaint has no merit, which is exactly why the FEC dismissed it as totally improper,” he said. “This bogus attack illustrates just how scared the Murphy-Gottheimer team is at the thought of running against an aggressive conservative like Steve Lonegan. That’s why they recruited John McCann, who stood with Josh Gottheimer on Election Night, to run against Steve in the primary. Josh may have millions. He’s going to need it if this is the best he can come up with.”

Mary deBeau, paralegal specialist at the FEC, notified the Lonegan Campaign on April 17th that the complaint was bogus.

“Hilarious,” Lonegan said in response to the Eustace complaint.

In the letter, Eustace noted that prior to announcing his candidacy on August 24, 2017, Lonegan was the New Jersey State Chairman of the Ted Cruz for President campaign and employed by the Courageous Conservatives PAC [link]. This PAC is funded, in large part, by Stan Herzog and Christopher Eckstrom and played a considerable and direct role in efforts including at the 2016 Republican Convention to stop then candidate-Donald Trump from attaining the Republican nomination.  It has also been involved in efforts to attack LGBT Americans and support Roy Moore in Alabama, the former Assembly said.

“According to FEC guidelines, Super PACs are independent, expenditure only committees, and direct coordinated communication with a campaign is expressly prohibited. Essentially, Super PACs may not directly participate in the direction, messaging, or coordination of strategy with a campaign – and there must be clear delineations and firewalls to prevent such (See 11 CFR § 109.22). Also, see guidance from the FEC on coordination [HERE],” Eustace wrote. “Even after Steve Lonegan announced his candidacy for Congress in New Jersey’s Fifth District, evidence strongly suggests that he was either still working for the Courageous Conservatives PAC and potentially coordinating activity with his own campaign, in violation of 11 CFR § 109.22.”   

Eustace pointed out to Walther that Lonegan appeared on CNN in February 2018, after filing as a candidate on August 19, 2017, identified as “Courageous Conservative PAC member.”

“This is evidence that he is still working for the super PAC; and  on February 7, Lonegan appeared again on CNN and was introduced as ‘Steve Lonegan of Courage Conservatives PAC,” Eustace noted in the letter. “Even when given a chance to correct the host, he did not. (See link to his CNN appearance); and as a further example of the illegal and improper coordination and alliance between Lonegan’s Congressional campaign for the Fifth District and the Super PAC (Courageous Conservative PAC), even after announcing his official candidacy for the Republican nomination, Elizabeth Curtis, Steve Lonegan’s current and longtime Treasurer was still serving as Treasurer for both Steve Lonegan for Congress and for Courageous Conservatives PAC.  Moreover, Steve Lonegan’s campaign did not disclose any payment for Curtis. This raises a critical issue, to wit; if Elizabeth Curtis provides free services to Steve Lonegan’s campaign from the super PAC, it is again a violation of campaign laws.”

Eustace decried “disturbing indications that Super PACs, including Courageous Conservatives PAC, intends to be active in Steve Lonegan’s congressional campaign.”

He said the Republican candidate’s treasurer recently moved to be Treasurer of Courageous Conservatives PAC and Steve Lonegan posted B-roll footage on Facebook for easy access by a Super PAC.

“This implicitly reinforces Steve Lonegan’s attempt to circumvent the clear laws against coordination between candidate committees and Super PACs,” the former assemblyman said.

Lonegan has had significant relationships – including managerial duties – with PACs before, while simultaneously running for statewide office. In his 2009 campaign against then-Governor Christie, he remained the executive director of — and was paid for by — Americans for Prosperity.

“On October 29, 2014, the American Democracy Legal Fund filed a complaint against several political campaigns, including Lonegan for Senate, for “coordinating communications facilitated through the ongoing, real-time exchange of non-public strategic campaign and party data with groups making purposely independent expenditures,” Eustace said.

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