Continued from page 1

“Generally, a candidate can contribute any amount of their personal wealth in support of their campaign for public office,” said former FEC Chairman Robert Lenhard, a Democrat.

“The one exception to this occurs when candidates voluntarily agree to accept public financing, which in some cases places a cap on the amount of money a candidate can contribute,” he said.

Presidential candidates can contribute up to $50,000 of their own money if they’re accepting public financing. Mr. Kerry did not take public financing in his primary campaign but did for the general election race.

“From an FEC perspective, this may be uncharted territory,” said former FEC Chairman Michael Toner, a Republican. “If the IRS truly does pursue Kerry for payments, Kerry may need to seek an advisory opinion [from the FEC] on what his options would be for making required payments.

“I can’t recall the IRS in the past pursuing a presidential campaign after the campaign has terminated with the FEC,” he said. “This strikes me as a novel situation if the IRS, in fact, is pursuing Kerry here.”

Marcus S. Owens, a former director of the exempt-organizations division for the IRS, said political campaigns are no different from any other corporation when it comes to paying withholding taxes.

“Campaigns are employers just like any other business,” he said. “The IRS wants its employee withholding taxes.”

Mr. Owens said the Kerry campaign’s explanation of an IRS record-keeping problem is plausible. Record-keeping errors “aren’t unheard of,” he said.

“This could be something the IRS and campaign have been dealing with for a while,” he said.

Jay Soled, a tax specialist and professor at Rutgers University, said the IRS doesn’t usually file a lien unless it has been unable to collect the tax debt.

“The filing of a lien is usually a last step in the process,” he said.

Under IRS rules, authorities first assess a tax debt, then send a bill saying how much tax is owed. The IRS can file a lien only if a taxpayer then refuses or neglects to pay the bill within 10 days of the notice.