Lowden to address Senate debt with FEC filing

Lieutenant governor candidate Sue Lowden, dogged by questions about a $500,000 debt from her 2010 Senate campaign, plans to file a document next week with the Federal Election Commission indicating she is taking care of the obligations.

“This issue will be behind us in the next few weeks,” Lowden told me. “I am looking forward to it being over later this month.”

Lowden has hired an experienced FEC attorney to file the document, in contrast to her past disclosures, which were done by Bob Beers, the Las Vegas city councilman and veteran of state and local campaigns, she said. It’s clear that Lowden is smart enough to realize that this issue, which she previously has downplayed, could hobble her incipient bid and that if it is not resolved before filing could possibly prevent her from running.

But she seemed confident Friday that the issue would be resolved and soon.

The debt, which I first wrote about in August, has grown into a heavily covered topic by political reporters as Lowden has been trying to fend off lawsuits – she won one in Ohio and is still fighting one from Colorado --  while attempting to placate a federal agency not satisfied with her debt retirement plan.

If she can clear up the problem (she is vigorously fighting the Colorado suit), relegating it at least into the background as a political issue, she could be competitive against Gov. Brian Sandoval’s anointed choice in the GOP primary, state Sen. Mark Hutchison. That she realizes this is evident by her submittal of the payment plan and her writing checks to vendors, something I bet she wishes she had done much earlier.

You could almost hear Team Hutchison, which is equivalent to Team Sandoval, salivating Thursday when the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Ray Hagar reported that ex-GOP Chairman Dave Buell, a reliable Establishment hand, filed a FEC complaint against Lowden. Those folks want this issue as much in the news as possible and up until now, Lowden has obliged by not resolving it. The goal, I’d guess, is to scare her out of the primary -- Hutchison may be a favorite but he has nowhere near her name recognition.

Anointments are about creating the absence of a race. And I honestly don’t think Lowden would file if this were still a high-profile issue come March, which is why she is addressing it now.

The other outstanding issue, though, is that Lowden clearly has not reported some of these debts to the FEC, which may be remedied next week. For example, she owes money to her 2010 campaign manager Robert Uithoven, which has not been reported in recent filings, and the debt that is the subject of the remaining lawsuit also has been invisible lately to the FEC.

“Sue started paying the debt she owes me last year (April 2013),” Uithoven told me. “It's my understanding that an amendment to her FEC filing is being submitted to reflect the debt settlement agreement we have entered into. “

The Vitale lawsuit and any other debts that surface could still pose political problems for Lowden. But her incipient FEC filing and her confidence in resolving any outstanding legal issues tell me she finally recognizes the potential lethality of this lingering debt and has moved to deal with it.

If Lowden can free herself of the debt, literally and politically, and if she then pours a lot of money into the race against the anointed Hutchison, this contest will be a lot of fun to watch.