Did Clinton-DNC Joint Fundraising Efforts Break Campaign Finance Law?

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As election 2016 continues, campaign finance has again been an issue of contention among candidates.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign on Monday questioned “serious apparent violations” of campaign finance laws under a joint fundraising deal between Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee – a story highlighted in The Atlantic.

The dealings were detailed in a letter from Brad Deutsch, the attorney for Sanders’ campaign, to U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the DNC. The letter questioned whether the Clinton presidential campaign violated legal limits on donations by improperly subsidizing Clinton’s campaign bid by paying Clinton staffers with funds from the joint DNC-Clinton committee.

Unlike Clinton’s presidential campaign committee, Hillary for America, the joint committee may accept large donations of up to $356,100. The first $2,700 of this amount is eligible for transfer to the Clinton campaign, $33,400 can be transferred to the DNC, with any remaining amount, up to $10,000, to each participating state party. According to public disclosure reports, however, the joint Clinton-DNC fund, Hillary Victory Fund, the Sanders campaign said, appears to operate in a way that skirts legal limits on federal campaign donations and primarily benefits the Clinton presidential campaign.

The financial disclosure reports on file with the Federal Election Commission indicate that the joint committee invested millions in low-dollar, online fundraising and advertising that solely benefits the Clinton campaign.

The Sanders campaign “is particularly concerned that these extremely large-dollar individual contributions have been used by the Hillary Victory Fund to pay for more than $7.8 million in direct mail efforts and over $8.6 million in online advertising” according to the letter to the DNC.

Both outlays benefit the Clinton presidential campaign, the Sanders campaign alleges, “by generating low-dollar contributions that flow only to HFA [Hillary for America] rather than to the DNC or any of the participating state party committees.”

The outlays “have grown to staggering magnitudes” and “can no longer be ignored,” Deutsch added.

The expenditures on advertising and fundraising are at best “an impermissible in-kind contribution from the DNC and the participating state party committees” to Clinton’s presidential campaign, the letter said. “At worst, using funds received from large-dollar donors who have already contributed the $2,700 maximum to HFA [Hillary for America] may represent an excessive contribution to HFA from these individuals.”

In addition, the joint committee has paid the Clinton campaign committee $2.6 million ostensibly to “reimburse” the Clinton presidential campaign staff for time spent running the joint committee. The unusual arrangement, Deutsch said, “raises equally serious concerns that joint committee funds, which are meant to be allocated proportionally among the participating committees, are being used to impermissibly subsidize HFA through an over-reimbursement for campaign staffers and resources.”

“While the use of joint fundraising agreements has existed for some time — it is unprecedented for the DNC to allow a joint committee to be exploited to the benefit of one candidate in the midst of a contested nominating contest,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager.

To read the letter, click here.

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