“Republican FEC commissioners let Clinton campaign off the hook for super PAC coordination”

Open Secrets: Deadlocked on a party-line vote, the Federal Election Commission has dismissed a complaint that Hillary Clinton’s campaign illegally coordinated with a super PAC during the 2016 presidential election cycle.Continuing a recent trend with the embattled regulatory agency that is currently missing two of six commissioners, it was the Republican commissioners, not Democrats, who voted to stonewall enforcement action over the…

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Former HHS Secretary and Member of Congress Tom Price Poised to Convert $1.7 Million in Campaign Funds to a 501(c)(4) That Can Play in Georgia (or Federal) Elections (Now Updated with an Important Caveat)

This recommendation of the FEC staff would allow Price to do that. A 501(c)(4) can now do lots of election and political activity without getting in trouble with the IRS. UPDATE: It may be that the limits this 501(c)(4) is putting on itself, at least until it spends down Price’s campaign funds, may curtail some of the political activity it would engage in. But the benefit of this structure would be to shield future donors from public…

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Last week at the FEC

…Here’s last week’s roundup of the latest at the FEC.  Includes, among other things, an advisory opinion allowing a vendor to offer cybersecurity services to campaigns at low- to no-cost, and an advisory opinion allowing a congressional campaign to distribute “valueless digital blockchain tokens as an incentive to engage in volunteer activities.”…

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“Kobach appears to launch Kansas Senate bid by misspelling own name on federal form”

KC Star: Kris Kobach appears to be running for U.S. Senate and to have launched his campaign by misspelling his own name. A campaign committee named Kobach for Senate filed with the Federal Election Commission Monday morning, hours before Kobach was scheduled to give a speech in Leavenworth, where he is expected to kickoff his campaign. But the FEC filing initially spelled the former Kansas secretary of state’s name as “Chris,” an inauspicious…

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Amicus Brief Cites Evidence that Super PACs Create the Appearance of Quid Pro Quo Corruption in DC Circuit Case Seeking to Overturn SpeechNow (The Case That Gave Us Super PACs)

From the Robertson, Bergstrand, and Winkelman brief in Lieu v. FEC: Plaintiffs-Appellants have asked the Court to reconsider its decision in SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission, 599 F.3d 686 (D.C. Cir. 2010), which gave rise to so-called Super PACs and similar independent expenditure organizations. The Court in SpeechNow recognized that the “appearance of corruption” could justify campaign finance regulation under Supreme Court…

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“Foreign spending in our elections is a threat to our national sovereignty”

FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub with this WaPo oped: Concerns about foreign attempts to intervene in our political system date back to the founding of our republic. As chair of the Federal Election Commission, I am gravely concerned about ongoing efforts by geopolitical adversaries to undermine our democracy. It is critically important that everyone involved in U.S. politics understands the law, recognizes the threat, and confronts and contains it….

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“Trump said it’s OK to take campaign dirt from foreign powers. Is it legal?”

LAT: Does receiving ‘dirt’ on an opponent count? Daniel P. Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University, said he did not believe so.“My view is that an in-kind contribution has to have some determinate economic value,” he said.Brad Smith, a law professor at Capital University in Ohio and a former FEC chairman, agreed, saying that conversations with foreign nationals are not unlawful. But if those talks involve a foreign government agent…

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“‘Let me make something 100% clear’: FEC chair lays down the law on foreign help”

Politico: The head of the Federal Election Commission released a statement on Thursday evening reiterating, emphatically, that foreign assistance is illegal in U.S. elections. “Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election,“ wrote Ellen Weintraub, chairwoman of…

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Top 10 “Interest Group” Contributors to Congress for 2018 Elections

Lots of interesting and perhaps surprising information at the OpenSecrets.org site on the occupation of the “groups” that gave the largest contributions in the 2018 congressional election cycle. A couple points that stood out to me: Those who list their occupation as “retired” gave the single largest amount of any occupational “group” in the aggregate. Second, the groups that split their contributions most…

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“Congressional leadership PACs continue to subsidize lavish lifestyles”

Release: A new report today released by Issue One and Campaign Legal Center (CLC) shows that instead of doling out funds to political allies, members of Congress routinely use leadership PAC funds to pay for expensive meals, rounds of golf, and luxury hotel stays — often under the guise of fundraising. During the final three months of 2018 alone, some members of Congress used leadership PACs to pay for trips to Puerto Rico and London, dues to…

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In Important Step and In Rare Bipartisan Fashion, Federal Election Commission Unanimously Approves Measure to Provide Free or Reduced-Cost Cybersecurity Protection for American Campaigns [Subject to Disclosure of, and Limits on Sources of Funding for Effort (That Part’s Not Unanimous)]

This is very good news. You can find the advisory opinion here. It is unanimous, except the Republican commissioners would not have imposed the disclosure requirements or source limitations. From Chair Weintraub’s letter: Under the unusual and exigent circumstances presented by your request and in light of the demonstrated, currently enhanced threat of foreign cyberattacks against party and candidate committees, the Commission approves…

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D.C. Circuit, Sitting En Banc, Upholds Federal Campaign Contribution Limits Applied to Bequests to Libertarian Party, with 3 Judges Partially Dissenting

Read the opinion in Libertarian National Committee v. FEC. Judge Tatel’s majority opinion begins: When Joseph Shaber passed away he left over $235,000 to the Libertarian National Committee (LNC). This case is about when and how the LNC can spend that money. The LNC argues that the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), which imposes limits on both donors and recipients of political contributions, violates its First Amendment rights in two…

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“FEC lawyers find evidence of illegal campaign contributions by Boston’s Thornton law firm, but commissioners dismiss complaint anyway”

Boston Globe: Lawyers at the Federal Election Commission found that Boston’s Thornton Law firm likely used a phony program to repay partners for political donations, but the case was dismissed after commissioners deadlocked on whether to pursue it. FEC staff lawyers found extensive evidence that Thornton, a major supporter of the Democratic Party and its candidates, illegally reimbursed partners for more than a million dollars in donations,…

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Breaking: DC Circuit Denies En Banc Consideration in Crew v. FEC Case, Essentially Giving Republican Commissioners Unfettered Ability to Block All Campaign Finance Enforcement Matters with No Judicial Review of the Decision

Huge decision not to take the case en banc today. Under the ruling, if the FEC deadlocks (typically along party lines) on an enforcement matter and those blocking enforcement claim “prosecutorial discretion,” there can be no meaningful judicial review of the matter. As Judge Pillard explains in her dissent from denial of rehearing en banc: “If a partisan bloc of the FEC can thwart a case like this one, FECA’s controls on…

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“Federal Election Commission Lays Bare Internal Conflicts and Challenges in Letters to Congress”

CPI: The Federal Election Commission’s four leaders are offering lawmakers clashing perspectives on the agency’s very purpose.The FEC’s greatest challenge to fulfilling its mission is a misperception that “adherence to the rule of law and sensitivity to Americans’ First Amendment rights reflect hostility towards enforcing the law or, even, toward the Commission itself,” Republican commissioners Matthew Petersen and Caroline Hunter…

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“FEC Dysfunction Now Threatens Democracy”

TAP: Of all the Federal Election Commission’s many chronic breakdowns in recent years, its failure to take the slightest action to either stave off or respond to Russian meddling in the 2016 election is the most damaging to American democracy. The FEC repeatedly considered but never approved straightforward new rules to require internet advertisers to better identify themselves, a move that could have helped deter Russian disinformation on…

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“A Lawsuit About Trump and the NRA Could Upend How the Government Polices Campaign Finance”

Mother Jones: A gun safety group, Giffords, and a campaign finance watchdog, the Campaign Legal Center, are suing the Federal Election Commission for failing to act on multiple complaints alleging that the National Rifle Association unlawfully coordinated with Donald Trump and other Republican candidates in recent elections. And the lawsuit is poised to act as a major test for the FEC chair’s new strategy to try and force the agency to take…

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“Mueller Report Opens Door for Civil Enforcement by FEC”

Release: Today, Common Cause, the Campaign Legal Center, and Democracy 21 filed a supplementto a complaint filed in July 2017 against President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign committee for soliciting contributions from foreign nationals in the form of opposition research offered by Russians. Although Special Counsel Robert Mueller declined to bring criminal charges against Donald Trump Jr., Mueller provided a roadmap by which the…

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“New Findings: FEC Stonewalling Candidates, Parties, Seeking Guidance About Super PACs, Other Substantive Issues”

Release: New data and analysis from the Brennan Center show that the deadlocked Federal Election Commission has failed to provide guidance to candidates, parties, and others seeking to understand their legal obligations; update regulations to reflect changes in the law; or investigate allegations of serious legal violations. Fixing the FEC: An Agenda for Reform demonstrates that the commission’s breakdown has left American elections more…

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“The Cybersecurity 202: Cybersecurity proposal pits cyber pros against campaign finance hawks”

WaPo: The Federal Election Commission could decide today whether nonpartisan groups can offer political campaigns free cybersecurity services, an issue that has made bedfellows of Republicans and Democrats but divided cyber pros and campaign finance hawks. The proposal’s authors, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager Robby Mook and Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign manager Matt Rhoades, come to the issue from bitter experience. The Romney campaign…

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“Lawsuit: NRA Illegally Coordinated Up to $35 Million in Campaign Spending”

Release: Today, Campaign Legal Center Action (CLC Action) filed suit on behalf of Giffords against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for failing to announce any action against the National Rifle Association (NRA) for using shell corporations to coordinate campaign spending with seven federal candidates spanning three election cycles from 2014-2018. The lawsuit was filed two days before President Trump addresses the NRA’s annual convention…

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“For Campaign Finance Violators, Crime Pays”

Mike Gilbert and Samir Sheth: he Federal Election Commission (FEC) recently levied a record-breaking fine against Right to Rise, a Jeb Bush-connected super PAC, for soliciting an illegal contribution from a foreign national. The fine brought cheers for the FEC, an agency infamous for deadlock, and heartened people on both sides of the aisle who want better enforcement of campaign finance laws. There’s just one catch: Right to Rise came out…

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“Busted & Broke: Why the Federal Election Commission doesn’t work”

Release: Issue One’s latest report, “Busted & Broke: Why the Federal Election Commission doesn’t work,” reveals why the FEC is dysfunctional and how the agency lacks the budget, staff, and teeth it needs to enforce the country’s campaign finance laws as the 2020 elections unfold.While it is common knowledge that the FEC gridlocks frequently, it is less known that the agency is severely understaffed and underfunded. The lack of resources is…

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What is Mike Roman, A Trump Fixer, Doing for the RNC for $20,000 a Month?

I’ve linked earlier to a Politico story about Mike Roman, The mysterious oppo researcher working in the White House lawyer’s office. It wasn’t clear what the opposition researcher was doing in the White House working for Don McGahn. (On Roman’s history promoting the New Black Panthers voter intimidation hysteria, see here.) Now he’s working for the RNC doing something (we don’t know what), and an #ELB reader…

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“The footnote in Barr’s Mueller report letter we need to pay attention to”

Larry Noble for CNN Opinion: Since there are only two footnotes in the letter and this is the only substantive footnote, one can assume Barr thinks the legal definition of “coordination” used is significant. He is right. The question of whether the Trump campaign interacted with the Russians as they interfered in the 2016 election, and whether that interaction is illegal, is often framed in terms of whether there was…

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“Trump’s Campaign Machine Has Two-Year Head Start”

WSJ: Before any well-known Democrats even began their White House bids, President Trump’s re-election team had spent more than $83 million on rallies, fundraising and other expenses associated with the thick of a heated race. Mr. Trump set up his 2020 operation as he moved into the White House, the earliest start of any president in modern history. His three political committees raised more than $127 million between January 2017 and the end of…

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Third Circuit Strikes Down Delaware Rule Requiring Judicial Candidates to Be Member of Republican or Democratic Parties

Opinion in Adams v. Delaware: James R. Adams is a resident and member of the State Bar of Delaware. For some time, he has expressed a desire to be considered for a judicial position in that state. Following the announcement of several judicial vacancies, Adams considered applying but ultimately chose not to because the announcement required that the candidate be a Republican. Because Adams was neither a Republican nor a Democrat, he concluded…

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“Courts Have No Say When FEC Wants To Ignore Alleged Wrongdoing”

Ken Doyle: A decision by two federal judges is making it impossible to challenge the way the Federal Election Commission enforces campaign laws. When the FEC deadlocks along party lines, that’s now the end of the line — no court can second-guess letting an accused wrongdoer off the hook.In a decision handed down in March, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras said he was foreclosed from reviewing the FEC’s dismissal of a complaint against a…

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“Republicans trigger ‘nuclear option’ to speed Trump nominees”

Politico: Senate Republicans used the “nuclear option” Wednesday to unilaterally reduce debate time on most presidential nominees, the latest in a series of changes to the fabric of the Senate to dilute the power of the minority. The move by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) immediately paves the way to expedite confirmations of President Donald Trump’s judicial and executive branch picks and comes amid deep GOP frustration with…

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“At the Federal Election Commission, No Watchdog for the Watchdog”

Dave Levinthal: When Beverly Davis began disqualifying numerous applicants for the Federal Election Commission’s vacant inspector general job — including a long-time staff attorney for Commissioner Matthew Petersen — agency superiors protested. Accusations and allegations flew. A turf war ensued. Davis said she was “attacked, retaliated against and bullied” into reassessing the qualifications of applicants she deemed subpar. After being…

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The Plight of the FEC

From an Eleanor Eagan Jeff Hauser analysis of independent agencies: Finally, the plight of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is an example of how Trump’s slowdown can exacerbate pre-existing threats to the public good. All of the commissioners are serving expired terms, a problem with its roots in pre-Trump Washington dysfunction. As no more than three members of the same party can be on the commission at any one time, the six member…

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“DOJ & FEC Complaints Filed for Apparent ‘Straw Donor’ Contributions to Trump Campaign”

Release via email: Today, Common Cause filed complaints with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging reason to believe that a Florida businesswoman violated campaign finance laws by enlisting and reimbursing “straw donors” tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions related to the reelection efforts of Donald Trump. The New York Times reported Saturday, that Li Juan “Cindy” Yang appears to…

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“Election Watchdog Hits Jeb Bush’s Super-PAC With Massive Fine for Taking Money From Foreign Nationals”

Mother Jones: The Federal Election Commission has hit Right to Rise USA, the super-PAC that backed Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential bid, with a record fine for accepting a seven-figure donation from a company owned by Chinese nationals who were in business with Bush’s brother, Neil, according to FEC documents obtained by Mother Jones. It is illegal for foreign nationals to be involved in making donations to political committees.Neil Bush, who has…

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AOC PAC USDs to LLC, TBD by FEC

A new FEC complaint alleges that several PACs directed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and/or her chief of staff reported large lump-sum expenditures to a set of campaign vendor LLCs, apparently complaining that the specific expenditures should have been reported individually. More here and here (including some other allegations concerning potential improper affiliation of the PAC and the campaign, and several that just seem to be screaming…

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Plaintiffs’ Merits Brief in Maryland Redistricting Case

From Plaintiffs-Appellees’ Brief filed in the Supreme Court yesterday: A State may not inhibit “the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others.” McCutcheon v. FEC, 572 U.S. 185, 191 (2014). Given this insuperable principle, counsel for the State agreed last Term that if “the Maryland legislature passed a statute and said, in the next round of reapportionment, we’re going to create seven…

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Merits Briefs in N.C. Gerrymandering Case

Plaintiffs-Appellees have filed their briefs in Rucho v. Common Cause/League of Women Voters. From the Common Cause plaintiffs’ brief: The 2016 North Carolina Congressional Plan (“2016 Plan” or “Plan”) is the most overt, and likely the most extreme, partisan gerrymander this Court has ever seen. The official written criteria that governed its creation expressly dictated pursuit of “Partisan Advantage” for the Republican Party and…

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“Group running robocalls impersonating Trump’s campaign has already raised more than $100,000”

CNN: The call sounds like it is coming from President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. It even uses a recording of the President’s voice: “I’m Donald Trump. Tonight I am asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border, out of love and devotion to our country.” A deep-voiced narrator then comes on asking the listener to “be one of the hundreds thousands of patriots that helped President Trump…

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“Elections Commission Chief Uses the ‘Nuclear Option’ to Rescue the Agency From Gridlock”

Mother Jones: The FEC chairmanship, which rotates among the commissioners each year, is mostly a ceremonial role without any real power. But Weintraub plans to use her veto power to stop the FEC from defending itself in court, since the agency needs four votes to initiate a legal defense. So what happens when the FEC gets sued and is not authorized to defend itself, as Weintraub plans? “It has not happened in the history of the agency,” she…

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“Manafort-Linked PAC Failed To Report $1 Million And The FEC Wants To Know Why”

TPM: A super PAC closely linked to Paul Manafort is facing questions about why it failed to report a $1 million contribution received just before the 2016 presidential election.In a Tuesday letter, the Federal Election Commission asked the Rebuilding America Now PAC for more information about the contribution, which the PAC first disclosed in an amended report in November 2018—some two years after the fact. The FEC letter raises new questions…

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McConnell’s Criticisms of H.R. 1

It’s not interesting that Mitch McConnell isn’t a fan of H.R. 1. He was the lead plaintiff against the last major campaign finance reforms that Congress passed. So of course he isn’t going to like H.R. 1’s heightened disclosure requirements, its efforts to unmask dark money, its public financing for congressional campaigns, and so on. These are exactly the kinds of measures that McConnell has railed against for his entire career. What is…

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H.R. 1 and Public Financing

I mentioned the other day that H.R. 1 would revolutionize American redistricting by requiring congressional maps to be designed by independent commissions. The bill would spark equally radical change in how congressional campaigns are financed, by creating two separate public financing programs. The first of these, dubbed “small dollar financing,” would match private contributions up to $200 with six times more public funds. A $200 donation to…

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