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Utah nonprofit claims Rep. Mia Love accepted over $1.1 million in illegal campaign contributions

SALT LAKE CITY — A complaint against Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, has been filed with the Federal Election Commission by a progressive Utah nonprofit claiming the congresswoman accepted more than $1.1 million in illegal campaign contributions.

Love's campaign denied any wrongdoing Wednesday and called the complaint an effort to "smear" the congresswoman.

The Alliance for a Better Utah, which calls itself a good government group, said in a detailed letter to the FEC and the Department of Justice's criminal division that Love's "actions are a betrayal of the public trust of Utah voters."

At issue is money raised by Love for the June primary election, since she had no opposition and was nominated as the Republican Party's general election candidate by delegates to the party's state convention in April.

FILE - Congresswoman Mia Love talks as she and Doug Owens team up to launch Utah Outdoor Partners, a new group to promote Utah's outdoor economy at a press conference at the Thomas S. Monson Center, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 9, 2018.

Rep. Mia Love, former Democratic opponent, promote outdoor recreation impacts on business

FILE - Congresswoman Mia Love talks as she and Doug Owens team up to launch Utah Outdoor Partners, a new group to promote Utah's outdoor economy at a press conference at the Thomas S. Monson Center, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 9, 2018.

The alliance's letter said the issue should be "investigated immediately to determine the extent of the violation," then the campaign should be compelled to return money that shouldn't have been accepted.

The letter also calls for the campaign to be fined the maximum amount permissible and asks that "any knowing and willful violations" be referred to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution.

"Any way you look at it, Rep. Love broke the rules and got a $1.1 million advantage," said the alliance's executive director, Chase Thomas, who signed the letter.

"Whether because of flagrant disregard for the rules, or massive ineptitude, the fact remains that Love has improperly received and retained a staggering amount of money, which her campaign is brushing off as though the rules don't apply to her," Thomas said.

The 4th District congresswoman's campaign has said about $370,000 raised after the convention is expected to be redesignated for another election, and less than $10,000 in contributions exceeding the maximum limit may be refunded.

The FEC had contacted the campaign about the money raised for the primary, news first reported by CNN. Love is facing a tough fight in her bid for a third term from Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.

In response to the FEC complaint, her campaign issued a two-page "fact check" Wednesday that labeled it "a desperate attempt to smear" Love and stressed no funds were raised illegally.

FILE - Congresswoman Mia Love walks into the press conference as she and Doug Owens announce Utah Outdoor Partners, a new group to promote Utah's outdoor economy at a press conference at the Thomas S. Monson Center, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 9, 2018.

Rep. Mia Love, former Democratic opponent, promote outdoor recreation impacts on business

FILE - Congresswoman Mia Love walks into the press conference as she and Doug Owens announce Utah Outdoor Partners, a new group to promote Utah's outdoor economy at a press conference at the Thomas S. Monson Center, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 9, 2018.

The document said "national Democrats, the liberal media and Ben McAdams are using technical uncertainties about how FEC fundraising rules map on to Utah's" unique candidate nomination system that allows up to three fundraising cycles.

"It's not a concern of ours because we're very confident that we're in the right on this," said Love's campaign manager, Dave Hansen. He said he expected that a complaint would be filed.

"The FEC is going to deal with it," Hansen said. "The results are going to be the same whether some group files a complaint or not." He said the alliance is a "liberal, left-leaning organization" tied to the McAdams campaign.

McAdams' campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, noted the issue is receiving national attention. On Wednesday, the New York Times reported the complaint is "escalating the liberal fight against the vulnerable incumbent" weeks before the election.

"News outlets in Utah and across the country have reported that Rep. Mia Love's campaign admitted to raising a million dollars in violation of federal campaign finance law," Roberts said in a statement.

He said the lieutenant governor's office, which oversees elections, has said Love would have known she wouldn't have a primary election as of March 15, the deadline for filing as a 2018 candidate.

"Even still, Love ignored the rules," Roberts said. "The right thing to do is return the money. Utahns deserve better than a member of Congress who continually breaks the rules and believes she can get away with it."