SACRAMENTO — Sen. Pete Wilson's campaign, responding to charges from Democratic challenger Leo T. McCarthy, said Thursday the senator will return thousands of dollars in campaign contributions that exceeded the $1,000 federal individual limit per election.
"In some cases, we had to refund," said Wilson campaign manager Otto Bos in a letter to the McCarthy campaign. "We even found others (excessive contributions) that you didn't and have corrected them too. I sure hope we caught them all."
The issue of contributions surfaced Saturday when Lt. Gov. McCarthy's campaign charged that Wilson had accepted $68,728 in "apparently illegal" contributions. McCarthy identified 97 separate cases in which contributions to the Republican senator exceeded the federal $1,000 limit.
Bob Hudson, a spokesman for Wilson, on Thursday denied that any of the contributions were illegal but acknowledged that some of the donations were above the amount allowed by law.
Hudson declined to say how much of the money would be refunded to donors but said it was "under $30,000."
"Obviously, we're required to give them back," Hudson said. "Every campaign will receive, at some point, contributions above the legal limit. Most of the time you give them back immediately. What happened here was, because of an apparent programming error, there has been a delay in returning those."
In a letter to the Federal Elections Commission, Wilson campaign treasurer Robert E. Miller Jr. attributed the excess contributions to a computer problem caused in part by a change in accounting firms.
In addition to the money that will be refunded, Miller said, an unspecified amount has been set aside in a "separate unusable fund" until the campaign determines whether those contributions also exceed the legal limit.
Wilson's campaign will hang onto another portion of the money for those contributions from both a husband and wife that were incorrectly reported as coming from an individual.
This is permitted under federal law in cases where a contribution was made from a married couple's community property, Hudson said. However, he declined to say how much of the money the campaign would keep after redesignating the names of the donors.
McCarthy had initially given the Wilson campaign a week to respond to the charges before reporting the matter to the Federal Elections Commission, which oversees the contribution law.
"Any time Sen. Wilson wants to obey the law instead of breaking the law, we're obviously pleased," Kam Kuwata, a spokesman for McCarthy, said Thursday. "I'm sorry it took this kind of action to force Wilson to obey the law."