By: Ashley Balcerzak
If only the MLB was as meticulous with its bookkeeping as it is with its player stats.
The professional baseball organization's PAC, the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball PAC, is now correcting past errors, reporting at least $19,000 worth of political contributions it had failed to share with the FEC over the past eight years, according to an OpenSecrets Blog review of recent amendments filed by the PAC's new treasurer.
The league's decades-long lobbyist and PAC treasurer, William Schweitzer, passed away in March 2015, leaving behind some unbalanced books. Schweitzer's partner, Mark Braden, of counsel at BakerHostetler, took over his post, and has since filed more than 30 amendments disclosing previously unreported disbursements, bank fees and donations since 2008.
"We've been off on our numbers for a while and it just didn't make any sense so we decided to go back," Braden said. "I think we were never reporting the bank statements, so that's been screwed up since day one. So we went back to ground zero and fixed what we could."
Because the MLB PAC is a monthly filer, Braden said, the committee's bank statements and FEC reports are always a bit off depending on when checks clear.
"But when I could tell this wasn't just a float problem, it would have been unsatisfactory not to fix it," Braden said.
"There is a potential violation for failure to report," said Larry Noble, general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. The PAC could be slapped with an administrative fine, and if the FEC finds systematic problems, the committee could be audited. Factors like the amount of money involved and whether there seemed to be an intent to deceive could affect what the agency does, Noble said.
"The commission has a point system that resembles that of the IRS," Braden said. "Could this get us audited? Sure, but we just needed to get it right."
The FEC also weighs past performance, and on that score, the MLB's batting average isn't terrific. Since 2002, the FEC sent more than 40 letters requiring the PAC to correct errors or clarify inconsistencies it found in earlier filings. Committees have 60 days to respond. In nine instances, the MLB PAC appears to have written back late or not at all. The majority of the letters referred to mistakes dealing with excessive contributions to candidates.
To be sure, these unreported donations from the PAC don't make up a huge percentage of the whole. In the 2008 cycle, the MLB reported doling out $200,000 in contributions, failing to include $5,500. In 2014, $6,000 was missing from the PAC's total of $415,475.
While the differences aren't dramatic, these late files do alter the MLB PAC numbers on the OpenSecrets profile page or the FEC. While the candidate running may have reported receiving the PAC contribution, the data we show on our page for the MLB PAC comes from the PAC itself. (And we add in amended reports about every five years or so.)
However, the FEC would also note the MLB has swung for the fences in its efforts to make things right, especially digging back eight years or more.
"The idea of enhancing disclosure is one the FEC and the public should look at and see they fixed something that needed to be fixed and changed something that could be changed," said Jason Abel, of counsel at Steptoe & Johnson LLP. "That's a positive thing."