Watchdog: FEC Must Investigate Unprecedented Violations of Campaign Finance Laws by Clinton, Trump

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The Campaign Legal Center today filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission alleging that three super PACs – one supporting Hillary Clinton (Correct the Record) and two supporting Donald Trump (Rebuilding America Now and Make America Number 1) – have violated federal election law by coordinating with the two major party candidates.

“We have been forced to file these complaints because a dysfunctional FEC has been sitting idly by as the campaigns of the presidential candidate of both major parties are involved in unprecedented coordination with super PACs in violation of the law,” said Larry Noble, general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center. “These are not minor or technical violations. According to the Supreme Court, unlimited campaign spending by wealthy interests can corrupt candidates unless totally independent of a campaign. Giving a large contribution to a super PAC that is coordinating with the Trump or Clinton campaign is the same as giving it directly to the campaign and buys the same direct access and influence over that candidate.”

Both Trump and Clinton have made fixing our “rigged” or broken political system a key talking point of their campaigns to rally supporters. But our complaints present clear evidence that the campaigns are ignoring current law by coordinating with their super PACS. No other presidential candidates have previously defied anti-coordination laws in this way.

“If either candidate is allowed to get away with these schemes, there is no doubt that the new loopholes they’ve created will be exploited by billionaires and corporations across the political spectrum,” said Brendan Fischer, associate counsel for the Campaign Legal Center. “The two major candidates for the most powerful office in the world apparently feel that the rule of law does not apply to them, perhaps because they assume that the FEC is too dysfunctional to enforce the campaign finance laws that exist. The question for both Clinton and Trump is what, specifically, are they going to do to fix the broken system they are exploiting.”

About Our Complaints:

  • Correct the Record: The Clinton-supporting super PAC, Correct the Record, asserts it can coordinate directly with the Clinton campaign as long as it doesn’t run paid advertising. Clinton’s attorneys are relying on a narrow 2006 FEC regulation that declared that content posted online for free, such as blogs written by unpaid volunteers, is off limits from regulation. But Correct the Record is not a volunteer blogging operation. It is a $6 million professional opposition research, surrogate training and messaging operation staffed with paid professional employees and operating out of a high-rise Washington, D.C. office building.

    Because Correct the Record is effectively an arm of the Clinton campaign, million-dollar-plus contributions to the super PAC are indistinguishable from contributions directly to Clinton – and pose the same risk of corruption.

  • Rebuilding America Now: Two of Trump’s senior staffers formed the Rebuilding America Now super PAC almost immediately after leaving the campaign – in violation of FEC rules requiring a 120-day “cooling off” period, which are intended to keep former staffers from using their knowledge of a campaign’s strategy and needs to develop ads for an “independent” group. The former Trump staffers make the legally baseless claim they can ignore the 120-day rule because they weren’t paid by the campaign, an extraordinary assertion that undermines the rule’s anti-coordination purpose.
  • Make America Number 1: Trump supportingsuper PAC, Make America Number 1, is also intertwined with the Trump campaign. Trump’s campaign manager and deputy campaign manager are both former presidents of the super PAC – and reportedly were hired at the behest of Make America Number 1’s chair, Rebekah Mercer. What’s more, both the Trump campaign and the super PAC use the same data analytics firm – owned by the Mercer family – to target voters and develop ad content.

    The Mercer family, which has poured millions into Make America Number 1, appears to have a level of influence over the campaign commensurate with having made millions in contributions directly to Trump. This may not be surprising, since as the Supreme Court has noted, coordinated expenditures “will be as useful to the candidate as cash.” Given the close relationship between Make America Number 1 and the Trump campaign, the Mercers’ millions in contributions to Make America Number 1 raise the same concerns about corruption and improper commitments as if the Mercers had donated directly to the campaign.

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