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Former congressional candidate sentenced for campaign finance violation

Lynda Bennett Lynda Bennett

Former congressional candidate Lynda Bennett has been sentenced to 12 months of probation after pleading guilty in March to violating the Federal Campaign Act of 1971.

According to the filing, Bennett “on behalf of her campaign did knowingly and willfully accept a contribution made by one person, Individual A [identified in the criminal complaint as a relative], which aggregated $25,000 in the calendar year 2019, in the name of another person.”

As first reported by The Smoky Mountain News, Bennett requested a $25,000 loan from a family member, “Individual A,” and received a personal check on Dec. 30, 2019, which she deposited in her personal Wells Fargo bank account the same day. 

The next day, Bennett transferred $80,000 from her personal account — including the $25,000 loan — into her campaign account. 

Bennett reported the $80,000 transaction as “personal funds of the candidate” in violation of 52 USC 3010 (8)(A)(1), according to a court filing, which also states that Bennett did so “knowingly and willfully.”

Bennett, who was backed by then-President Donald Trump, retiring incumbent Congressman Mark Meadows and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, among others, won the first round of Republican Primary Election voting but lost in the runoff election to future congressman Madison Cawthorn, who would eventually go on to win the 2020 General Election.

Bennett signed a plea arrangement back in January of this year before offering her guilty plea on March 8.

Prior to Bennett’s sentencing, both the government and her defense council filed memoranda arguing what they believed her sentence should be — the memoranda were in agreement that the sentence should be lenient. The government’s memorandum, filed June 13, noted that “a term of probation sufficiently serves the interests of justice in this case.” The government, despite her admission of guilt, believed she didn’t deserve active jail time and that there was “little chance of future illegal conduct.”

“[Probation] serves as adequate deterrence specifically, should Bennett ever seek elected office again, and generally, to future political candidates, who are once again served notice that the Government will criminally prosecute those who violate their campaign finance reporting obligations,” the memorandum reads.

Bennett’s defense attorneys’ sentencing memorandum, which was accompanied by nine letters attesting to Bennett’s character and outlining her current circumstances, states that “Bennett is a businesswoman, loving family member, and dedicated community member” in Maggie Valley. It also stated she is her family’s “breadwinner” and that she is even a caregiver.

“Mrs. Bennett is also a caring daughter. Her mother is 91 years old, and no longer can walk or speak clearly due to a stroke,” that memorandum reads. “Mrs. Bennett is her mother’s primary caregiver — her interpreter, driver and delivery person for food,” the memorandum reads, adding that she’s also helped provide care for other family members, is active in her church and has enjoyed a “successful, 37-year career as a realtor.”

“Mrs. Bennett is before this Court because of a bad choice, and she regrets it deeply,” the memorandum later reads. “But the life she has lived both before and since that choice is the life of an exemplary citizen—a trusted professional, a pillar of her community and a caring, devoted family member.”

The memorandum noted that, unlike some other candidates, including Cawthorn, who were able to loan their own campaigns significant amounts of money, Bennett wasn’t wealthy enough to go that route.

“Mrs. Bennett had been active in local politics, but she had never run for office before she was encouraged to run for Congress,” the memorandum reads. “She was a novice at campaigning and fundraising for herself. She accepted a loan, and she used it in her campaign, but it was not from someone seeking to influence her in the House of Representatives, or even just wanting access. Her family member did not need access. That family member was only trying to help.”

“The loan Mrs. Bennett accepted was not for personal gain either,” it continues. “Long before this investigation arose, Mrs. Bennett paid her family member back quickly. She closed her campaign account in 2021, never intending to run for office again. Her effort to enter public service was a costly and brutal failure, which she regretted and does not intend to repeat.”

Sentencing guidelines stipulate a maximum sentence of five years in prison and fine of up to $50,000. Along with receiving a 12-month probationary sentence, Bennett was ordered to pay a $7,500 fine.  

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