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The Federal Election Commission has formally advised Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein that she can ask for replacement contributions from past donors so long as their prior checks were never deposited in a campaign account.

The ruling does not give Feinstein what she really wanted, which was to seek replacement donations totaling some $4.5 million -- the amount campaign officials estimate was embezzled by former treasurer Kinde Durkee. Durkee is now awaiting sentencing, after pleading guilty to charges of mail fraud.

In an advisory opinion issued Tuesday, the FEC reasoned that if "the initial funds were never received by the committee, they would not count towards the attempted contributors' contribution limit."

The five voting FEC members, though they could not reach an official consensus on the broader question, did note that "the Commission has never applied the same reasoning to contributions that were actually deposited in the intended recipient committee's account as it has to circumstances where a committee lost a contribution check."


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