Federal investigators are looking into personal loans and contributions U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger made to his 2012 congressional campaign, two sources have told the Observer, providing more detail about an investigation that became public last month.
The FBI and IRS are investigating whether Pittenger improperly transferred the money from his former real estate company, Pittenger Land Investments, according to the two sources who shared details about the federal investigation on the condition they not be identified.
While he was running for Congress in 2012, the Charlotte Republican gave his campaign more than $2.3 million in personal loans and contributions – including a couple hundred thousand dollars the week before a bitter primary runoff.
Campaign finance experts say that if the personal loans are tied back to his family business, he could be accused of making illegal corporate contributions or misrepresenting contributions.
Pittenger, who is traveling overseas, could not be reached for comment. His campaign director, J. William VanOrsdel, and Pittenger’s wife, Suzanne, who now runs Pittenger Land Investments, issued the same statement to the Observer:
“Congressman Pittenger has acted with integrity in all respects and has consulted with multiple attorneys concerning the funding of his political campaign, ” the statement said. “As the Congressman has indicated before, he has provided all information requested by the United States Attorney’s Office and will continue to provide any further information requested by this office.”
Pittenger acknowledged last month that the company he founded in 1985 was being investigated by the FBI. But he has denied wrongdoing and has said such inquiries are part of the normal course of business in his industry.
He has previously said he didn’t know the specifics of the investigation but emphasized that it didn’t involve his duties as a member of Congress or his congressional staff.
Pittenger Land Investments gathers investors to buy raw tracts of land with the eventual goal of selling the properties to developers for a profit. The Observer has reported in recent weeks that some investors have been unhappy with the performance of the company, which has been led by Suzanne Pittenger since Robert Pittenger’s election to Congress.
Investigators ask about money
The two sources who spoke with the Observer said that federal investigators have asked PLI investors questions about how they thought their money would be used and what expectations they had. It’s unclear how many investors have been approached.
“One of the direct questions was, ‘Did you make contributions thinking that it’d be used for political purposes?’” said one source.
It’s common practice for candidates to make loans to their campaigns. There are no limits on how much a candidate can give to his or her campaign. But it must be personal funds. Any other contributions, including those from family or family businesses, are subject to strict guidelines.
“The money has to be his money, ” said Larry Noble, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington, D.C.-based campaign watchdog. “If he took the money out of a corporation and then funneled it into the campaign, then he would have several legal problems.”
In 2012, Pittenger contributed $1, 680, 735 to his campaign and loaned his campaign $644, 000.
One large loan to himself for $250, 000 on March 1, 2012, was made less than a week before his predecessor in the 9th Congressional District seat, former Rep. Sue Myrick, publicly endorsed his main opponent, former Mecklenburg County Sheriff Jim Pendergraph. Pittenger gave himself an additional $200, 000 on July 7, 2012, a week before the Republican primary runoff against Pendergraph.
Pittenger’s 2012 personal contributions came under scrutiny once before. In 2013, the Federal Election Commission fined Pittenger’s campaign $31, 000 for failing to report a 2012 personal contribution soon enough. Pittenger made a $309, 000 contribution in April but didn’t report it until July. The FEC said he should have reported it in April.
Charles Greer, a Charlotte accountant who served as Pittenger’s campaign treasurer at the time, declined to comment, citing accounting industry ethics. A new campaign treasurer, Caleb Crosby, came on board in the spring of 2013. He did not return a call seeking comment.
Charles Gus Johnson (October 12, 1880 – October 14, 1957) served as California State Treasurer, 1923-1956. He was the longest-serving state treasurer. He was forced to resign in 1956 after stories began to emerge over him funneling state funds into personal loans.
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