Category Archives: federal election commission

“Republicans Are Making ‘Dark Money’ Even Darker for 2024”

Roger Sollenberger for The Daily Beast:

For years, dark money groups have enjoyed certain advantages that offer donors anonymity—putting the proverbial “dark” in “dark money.”

But late last month, one small outside group quietly told election law regulators to shove off when watchdogs demanded to see the group’s donors, a move that legal experts say could signal a profound shift in campaign finance disclosure laws, making dark money even darker just in time for the 2024 election.

The group, a left-leaning climate change advocacy organization called “Protect Our Winters Action Fund,” was standing its ground after a notice from the Federal Election Commission flagged the group’s failure to disclose contributors, as the law requires.

In response, POWAF—a 501(c)(4) nonprofit—simply declined to disclose its donors. And as a justification, the group cited a policy statement from the FEC’s three Republican commissioners released in June 2022, signaling they would not enforce “dark money” disclosure rules as courts had previously decided.

That policy statement does not carry the force of law. And legal experts told The Daily Beast that the commissioners’ memo—written in response to two federal court rulings that had interpreted the law the opposite way—undercuts judicial decisions favoring transparency.

Instead, these experts said, GOP commissioners are apparently signaling they will unilaterally refuse to enforce the law as courts have defined it. With all FEC enforcement decisions requiring support from four of the six commissioners, this three-commissioner Republican contingent could block any action.

While the mechanisms involved may seem highly technical and obscure, the potential consequences are broad and easy to understand.

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Republican FEC Commissioners Block Investigation into Trump Campaign for 59th Time (29th Rejecting Staff Recommendations)

From Commissioner Weintraub:

Commissioners will continue to exercise prosecutorial discretion – the judicially unreviewable superpower granted to them by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals –unless and until the Court reconsiders its rulings in the Commission on Hope, Growth & Opportunity and New Models cases.

Until then, commissioners will be free to determine that Commission resources “would be best spent elsewhere” – although with only seven cases currently under investigation and the enforcement division’s investigatory authority newly hamstrung,16 it’s not clear where. And for those keeping count, the tally is now 59 times the Commission has been presented with allegations that Mr. Trump or his committees violated the FECA, 29 times the Commission’s nonpartisan professional staff recommended that we take some steps to enforce the law, and (checks notes) still zero times a Republican commissioner has voted to approve any recommendation to enforce the law against Mr. Trump

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“The FEC, Still Failing to Enforce Campaign Laws, Heads to Capitol Hill”

The latest from the Brennan Center:

Ultimately, any system of rules is only as good as the body that enforces them. Most Americans want strong campaign finance rules, which require an FEC committed to enforcing duly enacted laws in a timely and evenhanded manner. Congress should use the opportunity presented by this oversight hearing to press the FEC to fulfill its statutory mission. And lawmakers should continue to pursue legislative solutions to make the commission work better. 

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“A Trump Appointee is Trying to Gut the FEC’s Ability to Investigate Campaign Finance Crimes”

The Intercept:

The government agency tasked with investigating campaign finance violations is on its way to intentionally making that very obligation more difficult to accomplish.

The Federal Election Commission is a notoriously deadlocked agency that has nonetheless taken some significant enforcement actions in recent years. In 2019, for instance, the FEC issued record fines in relation to a Jeb Bush super PAC’s acceptance of $1.3 million from a Chinese-owned corporation. Last year, the agency fined Marathon Petroleum Company for giving $1 million to Republican party campaign committees while the fossil fuel company had existing contracts with the federal government.

Now FEC Commissioner Allen Dickerson, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, is pushing a rules change that would encumber the agency’s ability to investigate such violations. The proposal would require the FEC’s Office of General Counsel to get explicit approval from the commissioners for any investigative activity, no matter how big or small.

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The Federal Role in U.S. Elections, in One Picture

Bipartisan Policy Center has this explainer, which “identifies the primary entities from each branch of the federal government with a role in elections and their overlap and inter-agency collaboration to equip election stakeholders to better use existing resources and advocate for needed improvements.”

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Federal Lawsuit against DeSantis and Florida Election Officials over Rollout of Felon Voting Rights Restoration

Tampa Bay Times reports: “Nearly five years after Floridians voted to allow people with felony convictions to restore their voting rights, the coalition that pushed for the change is suing the state, arguing Florida created a system that impedes the will of the voters.” You can find the complaint on behalf of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and four individuals here, and more coverage in WaPo and Axios.

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FEC Unanimously Voted (Back in July 2022, But Just Now Made Public) that Schwarzenegger and His USC Institute Did Not Violate Federal Campaign Finance Law in Giving Election Administration Grants During Covid

Sensible result (vote totals). Not clear why this took so long to make public.

The claim was that these grants were meant to help Biden win, but there was no evidence of that. (Similar claims have been made about money from the Zuckerberg-Chan Foundation, also without evidence, and it has led many red states to ban private funding to help with election administration.)

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DC Circuit affirms dismissal of challenge to FEC’s decision to accept paperwork for Trump’s presidential candidacy

Late last year, I highlighted a federal court’s decision to throw out a challenge to the FEC accepting paperwork for Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy on the ground that he was ineligible to serve. Last month, in an unpublished per curiam opinion, a panel of the the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed dismissal: “appellant has not shown that he has Article III standing to pursue Count Two of his complaint. See generally Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016).” As I wrote last year, challenges to Trump’s candidacy won’t take place through FEC candidacy lawsuits, and we’re slowly seeing that play out in the courts now.

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DC Circuit rejects Heritage Action’s effort to intervene in Campaign Legal Center suit against FEC

You can see the DC Circuit’s unanimous opinion in Campaign Legal Center v. Federal Election Commission, here. The introduction of the opinion:

Heritage Action for America appeals the denial of its post-judgment motion to intervene as of right, FED. R. CIV. P. 24(a), in Campaign Legal Center’s challenge to the Federal Election Commission’s failure to act on its administrative complaint. The district court found the motion was untimely because prior to judgment it became clear Heritage Action’s interests would not be protected and delay in considering the complaint would prejudice Campaign Legal to the detriment of Congress’ enforcement scheme. Heritage Action had not yet received the Commission’s response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed 41 months after the administrative complaint, but the record supports the district court’s findings upon applying the test in Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center, 142 S. Ct. 1002, 1012 (2022). Accordingly, the court affirms the denial of intervention and dismisses the merits appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction.

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“Google Didn’t Show Bias in Filtering Campaign-Ad Pitches, FEC Says”


The Federal Election Commission has dismissed a complaint from Republicans that Google’s Gmail app aided Democratic candidates by sending GOP fundraising emails to spam at a far higher rate than Democratic solicitations. 

The Republican National Committee and others contended that the alleged benefit amounted to unreported campaign contributions to Democrats. But in a letter to Google last week, the FEC said it “found no reason to believe” that Google made prohibited in-kind corporate contributions, and that any skewed results from its spam filter algorithms were inadvertent. 

“Google has credibly supported its claim that its spam filter is in place for commercial reasons and thus did not constitute a contribution” within the meaning of federal campaign laws, according to an FEC analysis reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. 

The RNC and other campaign committees argued that Google’s “overwhelmingly disproportionate suppression of Republican emails” constituted an illegal corporate contribution to Democratic candidates.  

But the FEC disagreed, finding that Google established that it maintains its spam filter settings to aid its business in keeping out malware, phishing attacks and scams, and not for the purpose of benefiting any political candidates. 

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“George Santos tries to explain his wealth”


Rep.-elect George Santos has admitted to “embellishing” his resume with fake stints on Wall Street and a phantom college degree. He’s still trying to defend against accusations that he pretended to be Jewish.

But the burning question for many people, including his soon-to-be Republican and Democratic colleagues in Congress, is simple: Where did he get the money to fund his campaign?

“Where did all that money come from?” Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y. tweeted on Tuesday. “The Ethics Committee MUST start investigating immediately.”

When he first ran for Congress in 2020, Santos, who appears to have suffered from financial trouble for much of his adult life, filed disclosures listing no assets and a salary of $55,000, which he earned as a vice president at LinkBridge Investors, a business development firm. But the filings from his most recent run suggest he came into sudden riches, making between $3.5 million and $11.5 million from a company he founded called the Devolder Organization in 2021. He loaned his campaign more than $700,000.

In a phone conversation with Semafor, Santos offered a short tick-tock of how he made his money that left certain key details unanswered. …

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