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A core message of U.S. Senate Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield has been that Republican incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst can’t be trusted.

“Joni Ernst was caught knowingly accepting illegal contributions from corporations and had to pay the largest penalty ever for an Iowa politician,” according to a Greenfield campaign ad. Ernst’s “campaign was even caught red-handed taking illegal contributions from corporations.”

However, in a Sept. 15 letter, the Federal Election Commission has flagged Greenfield’s campaign, saying its fundraising report “discloses one or more contributions that appear to exceed the limits” of $2,800 per person to a campaign. Her campaign has 30 days to reply to the FEC, but the Ernst campaign isn’t waiting for an FEC ruling.

“In the words of Theresa Greenfield, Ms. Greenfield has been hypocritically ‘caught red-handed taking illegal contributions,’ ” said Ernst campaign spokeswoman Melissa Deatsch.

The situation is part of a pattern for Greenfield, Deatsch said.

“Coupled with her campaign getting caught with election fraud for submitting false signatures in exchange for ballot access, it’s clear Theresa Greenfield can’t be trusted,” she said.

In 2018 when Greenfield ran for a U.S. House seat, her campaign manager her was charged with felony election fraud.

The FEC letter asked Greenfield’s campaign to further explain 18 donations totaling $81,000, a $30,600 discrepancy.

The Greenfield campaign downplayed the letter, saying it was not the same as Ernst’s violation in 2017 when the FEC penalized “Joni for Iowa” for receiving $37,190 in excessive contributions. The Ernst campaign fired the fundraising firm involved and paid a $14,500 fine because the funds were not returned within the permissible time frame.

“Notices like these asking to review how contributions are attributed are routine,” Greenfield spokesman Sam Newton said. “It is Sen. Ernst who was forced to pay the largest FEC fine in history for an Iowa politician after knowingly and illegally accepting prohibited contributions from corporations.

“She also still refuses to explain reports she illegally coordinated with a dark money group set up by her own top aides.”

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