BY PAUL BARTON
Enquirer Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has decided to take no action in a campaign fund-raising complaint filed last year against Cincinnati financier Carl Lindner and his family, agency officials said Friday. The complaint had been filed by Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington-based research group specializing in Latin American Affairs.
The group charged that Mr. Lindner, members of his family and representatives of his businesses had exceeded their annual and per-election contribution limits.
The complaint was based on a Cox News Service study in 1997 that said 10 members of the Lindner family in 1996 exceeded the $25,000 aggregate limit on how much individuals can give to all candidates in federal races during an election cycle.
In filings at the FEC, attorneys for the family said many of the contributions that appeared to count against 1996 election limits in the study were because of double counting and other reporting errors made by the campaign committees of various congressional candidates.
Before any news stories appeared, the filing said, the family had sought refunds and "reattribution" of contributions based on an internal review and directive posted on the FEC's Internet page.
An FEC spokesman said that in deciding to take no action the commission was not passing judgment on the merits of the case.
Instead, he said, the commission has limited investigatory resources and decided it has more significant cases to pursue. The exact language used by the commission was: "This matter is less significant relative to other matters pending before the commission."
Kenneth Gross, a Washington attorney representing the Lindners, said in a filing with the FEC that the Council on Hemispheric Affairs was using the FEC complaint process as "part of its private vendetta against the Lindner family's business interests."
Representatives of the group have contended in various interviews that Lindner-related contributions have allowed Chiquita Brands International, of which Mr. Lindner is chairman, to exert control over U.S. policy in Latin America.