"There is no way this guy hadn't decided he was going to run when he announced he was going to step down," a Democratic election lawyer said.
But that may be impossible to prove.
"I was trying to decide whether I was going to run or not," Fagg said, when asked why he set up an exploratory committee. "To do that, I wanted to travel the state and talk to people about the pros and cons of running to see what kind of support I might get."
"Even the day before the day I announced, I had a real serious reflection time about, 'Should I do this, is this the right decision for my family, for the state?'" Fagg said.
Fagg maintains he did nothing wrong and has asked that the American Democracy Legal Fund pay his legal bills if he wins his challenge to its complaint. He also wants the FEC to be compensated for its time (and taxpayer money) spent looking into what he calls a "frivolous complaint."
The FEC has acknowledged it has received the complaint, but its enforcement process is confidential, so the commission won't comment on where the complaint is in the review process.
Many of these complaints don't have much political effect by themselves, but they can bubble up when opposing campaigns try to make a big deal of them. Fagg denounced the complaint as political "mudslinging."
"Our role is identifying these possible transgressions," said Brad Woodhouse of the American Democracy Legal Fund. "We don't apologize for the fact that these are partisan in nature. That's what we set ourselves up to do." Woodhouse is affiliated with American Bridge 21st Century, the Democratic opposition research group. Conservative groups lodge these complaints too. But even if the complaints don't have a political impact on a race, Woodhouse believes the work is now more important than ever. "If you look at the way that Trump is setting the stage for flouting any norms," he said, "this is a time to say enough is enough."
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