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Democrats file federal complaint against Sue Lowden over campaign bus

Image

Steve Marcus

A colorful advertisement covers a luxury recreational vehicle contributed to the Sue Lowden campaign by Carl Giudici.

Updated Tuesday, May 18, 2010 | 5:20 p.m.

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The Nevada Democratic Party has filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against Sue Lowden, one of the leading candidates for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination.

Naming Lowden and Carl Guidici, a donor to Lowden's campaign, the party's complaint accuses the Senate candidate of failing to fully report the in-kind donation of a luxury RV for use by her campaign.

As the Sun reported Monday, Giudici gave a $2,200 in-kind vehicle donation last year and another $200 this year, putting him at his limit for the primary election. Elsie Giudici has given at least $2,360 in in-kind vehicle donations since last year, meaning she is also near if not at her limit.

The federal limit is $2,400 in cash or in-kind contributions.

The complaint states: "These reported payments do not add up to the fair market value of the luxury bus. ... According to Lowden's own attorney, a typical rental rate could be $475 a day (or $3,325 a week); though, on information and belief, the complainant believes that the fair market rental value could be as much as $4,500 per week."

Based on those rates and the 10-month lease that the campaign inked with Guidici, the Democratic Party estimates the true value of the RV to the campaign at $142,500.

The tan 2001 Monaco, complete with kitchen, shower and bed, was bought by Giudici in May 2009 from a Montana dealer, according to a public database of vehicle registrations. A few months later, Lowden entered the race and became the front-runner, a status assured in part by the big bus that the campaign had wrapped in a colorful advertisement for her.

As of Monday, Lowden’s name was on the title along with Giudici's, seemingly indicating they co-own the bus.

Robert Uithoven, campaign manager for Lowden, called the complaint "frivolous and ridiculous."

"Sue Lowden and her campaign are in 100 percent full compliance with the FEC," Uithoven said. "This is yet another attempt to distract voters from the failings of Harry Reid and the Democratic Party."

When Lowden said in a television interview that the bus was donated, Uithoven said she misspoke. "Donate was not the correct term. She misspoke in that interview."

Asked about why her name was on the title, Uithoven said, "The title is not relevant. The lease agreement is."

That lease agreement, Uithoven said, makes clear that the owners of the RV would continue to own the vehicle.

He noted that the campaign used the RV to travel with press around rural Nevada. "You can't be more transparent than hauling around members of the press," he said.

The campaign has offered shifting explanations for the bus’s ownership.

Charles Spies, an attorney for the campaign, wrote in an e-mail last week: “The RV is titled in its owner’s name (not Sue Lowden or Lowden for Senate).”

In response to a records request, however, the DMV confirmed that Lowden is a titleholder with Giudici, indicating co-ownership status.

Later, the Lowden attorney sent a follow-up e-mail: “Although (Lowden) is not the owner of the vehicle (but instead is using it through a private lease agreement), (Lowden) and the owner are on the registration for insurance purposes.”

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