Michigan Democrats filed a complaint Wednesday urging the Federal Election Commission to investigate whether Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land ran afoul of campaign finance rules by renting two big-rig pick-up trucks from her brother-in-law for use on the stump.
The complaint alleges that the Republican's campaign "did not pay fair market value for transportation services and thus received in-kind contributions in excess of the legally permitted limit" from her brother-in-law, Roger Lucas.
Because Lucas donated the federal maximum of $5,200 to Land's campaign, any additional in-kind contributions would be illegal.
"Terri Lynn Land is taking advantage of her latest sweetheart deal by renting her massive campaign trucks from her brother-in-law for next to nothing, and is hoping we don’t notice," said Michigan Democratic Party Executive Director Garrett Arwa. "Michiganders have noticed, and we need a federal investigation into her campaign finances because she refuses to give us the truth."
Land's campaign has denied paying a discounted rate for the trucks, which FEC filings show it has rented for $1,000 per month since the beginning of this year.
"The Land campaign has consistently paid fair market value for use of this almost-decade-old truck,” Land spokeswoman Heather Swift told the Washington Examiner recently. “The monthly payments have, and will, cover usage of the truck from September 2013 through November 2014. Use of the truck was minimal in 2013 and will increase through Election Day, and rental payments properly reflect that valuation.”
Land's campaign did not respond to a follow-up request for comment Wednesday.
The Washington Examiner first reported on Democrats' questions about the truck rentals in August.
The vehicles in question, two oversized blue trucks that are half big rig, half pick-up, have become a fixture at Land's events and have even inspired an Instagram account managed by her campaign. Similar trucks listed for sale online tend to range from $75,000 to $85,000.
But determining the "fair market value" of a good or service for campaign-finance purposes is more of an art than a science.
"For most things you look at fair market value,” Larry Noble, former FEC general counsel now with the Campaign Legal Center, told the Washington Examiner previously. “If you're going to rent the campaign a car, look at what the campaign would have to pay at arm's length for that car.”
This is not the first FEC complaint the Michigan Democratic Party has filed against Land this election cycle. In January, Democrats charged that Land had coordinated with super PACs after she said in a speech that her "campaign has talked to a lot of these folks."
Land is running for Michigan's open Senate seat against Democratic Rep. Gary Peters, who has held a slim lead in most recent public polls.