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.
Category Archives: federal election commission
“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. …
“‘Dark money in politics an even darker place’ now, judges warn”
The partisan split makes the FEC “an unusual agency,” said Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democratic appointee. “Everyone anticipated from the get-go that that was going to make enforcement challenging, and they built in this fail-safe provision that complainants could sue.” Now, she said, “these decisions eviscerate that.”
The earlier ruling already caused a district court judge in D.C. to reverse himself and rule in favor of the GOP-aligned American Action Network accused of engaging in electioneering while calling itself a nonprofit to avoid disclosing its donors.
Chairman James Trainor III, a Trump appointee, said in 2020 that outside groups were using lawsuits “as [a] weapon against the speech rights of their political opponents.”…
The bipartisan requirement has stymied high-profile, politically contentious cases since the FEC was formed in 1974. But in recent years, Republican appointees have expressed general opposition to campaign finance regulations and blocked enforcement in cases involving both parties.
A Republican former commissioner who helped block the New Models case said in a 2018 radio interview that fewer restrictions on campaign spending were “a good thing for democracy” that helped “more people to become involved in politics” without “being harassed by people who disagree with them.”
A dispute over nominees, with Republicans unwilling to name new commissioners unless the Democratic appointees were also replaced, left the commission without enough members to function during the 2020 election cycle.
Rick Hasen, an election law expert at UCLA Law, said he expects the ruling will only further a “deterioration” in the effectiveness of the FEC that has been going on for the past 15 years. According to a report by a former Democratic appointee, less than 5 percent of enforcement votes in 2006 resulted in a deadlock; a decade later more than 30 percent did.
“There used to be more moments of cooperation and less obstructionism and more fighting things out,” he said. Now “the Republican commissioners have a way to render many of their opinions essentially unreviewable by the courts.”
Weintraub said there has been some bipartisan cooperation in recent months, but not on enforcement actions.
“I can’t recall the last time we had four votes to even investigate … dark money cases,” she said. She predicted the ruling “will contribute to the amount of dark money that is raised and spent on our elections” and “make it increasingly difficult for the commission to enforce the law.”
Sean Cooksey, a Trump appointee to the FEC who previously worked for Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), tweeted that the ruling is an “important decision on separation of powers principles.” (He went on to suggest that one of the nonprofits advocating for greater FEC oversight was hypocritical for taking money from alleged cryptocurrency fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried.)
With Two Judges Not Participating and Two Dissenting, D.C. Circuit Will Not Review En Banc Decision That Allows a Minority of FEC Commissioners to Block Judicial Review By Bare Assertion of “Prosecutorial Discretion”
This is a travesty and renders the judicial review procedures of FEC actions mostly meaningless. Judge Millett’s dissent from the denial of en banc review begins:
Essential to the rule of law is the principle that a governmental agency cannot become a law unto itself. Yet that is what the court’s decision here permits. The opinion licenses a minority
within a federal agency to pronounce extensive and substantive legal determinations that will affect the course of agency decisionmaking and the behavior of regulated parties, while inoculating those decisions from judicial review just by tacking a fleeting reference to prosecutorial discretion on at the tail end of the decision.
According to the court, that sleight of word bars all judicial review even when the substantive legal analysis is expressly denominated an “independently sufficient” basis for decision, separate and apart from any claim of prosecutorial discretion.
Worse still, it eviscerates the explicit private right to judicial review that Congress wrote into the Federal Election Campaign Act. It hamstrings review even when, as here, the agency’s reading of federal law openly defies a federal court order holding that very same statutory interpretation unlawful.
I would not arm an agency minority with what is in effect a judicial-review kill switch. Neither am I able to turn my back on such agency disregard not only of an adverse court judgment, but also settled statutory requirements and this court’s binding precedent. For those reasons, I dissent from the denial of rehearing en banc.
“FEC scales back digital ad transparency rule after backlash”
Federal election regulators are scaling back a major digital ad transparency measure after an effort to speed it through the regulatory process drew intense internal and external pushback, records show.
Why it matters: A little-noticed, two-word change to a proposed Federal Election Commission regulation could exempt wide swaths of digital ads from new rules designed to step up disclosure in a fast-growing segment of political advertising….
Proposed FEC Rulemaking on “Internet Communication Disclaimers and Definition of ‘Public Communication'”
This draft is on the agenda for Thursday’s FEC meeting.
“The Republicans Who Want Election Laws to ‘Stay Broken’”
For years, critics have argued the Federal Election Commission has been effectively broken. Now MAGA-land is going to court to make sure it stays that way.
The FEC is charged with civil enforcement of campaign finance laws, but in recent years Republican commissioners have opted not to take action in a slew of cases—even after the agency’s own attorneys have found reason to believe laws were violated. The continual deadlock has led to accusations that the agency is broken and neglecting its duty.
Recently, however, Democratic commissioners found a way around the deadlock, opening a path through the courts if the Republicans fail to act. But it’s a long process, and now three committees with Trumpworld ties—the campaign for Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), the National Rifle Association, and a pro-Trump outside group called the 45Committee—are fighting back with their own lawsuits in hopes of thwarting the thwarters.
Democratic commissioner Ellen Weintraub told The Daily Beast that these Republicans are “perfectly happy” with the status quo.
“Unfortunately, there are some people who want to see it stay broken,” Weintraub said. “They’re perfectly happy with us failing to act. That’s a good thing to them. But they don’t get to control all the outcomes.”
All three of the committees suing the FEC were accused of campaign finance violations, and all three escaped action with a deadlocked vote.
45Committee, a nonprofit organization, was accused by the Campaign Legal Center in 2018 of improperly spending tens of millions of dollars in support of candidates during the 2016 election, including Donald Trump. Three years later, the FEC deadlocked on an enforcement decision, and CLC sued 45Committee directly in D.C. federal court this April.
The NRA and the Hawley campaign are involved in a separate action, involving an allegedly illegal, multimillion-dollar coordination scheme. They also benefited from the deadlock rule, and now face a federal suit, also in the D.C. circuit, from CLC and gun control group Giffords.
FEC Commissioner Weintraub Argues that Republican FEC Commissioners Blew It In Seeking To Dismiss Complaint Against Pro-Trump Super-Pac Involving $781 Million in Potentially Illegal Spending
Very interesting statement from Commissioner Weintraub about how Republican FEC commissioners—who have been trying to get rid of most serious cases of campaign finance violations on grounds of “prosecutorial discretion”—may have blown it in how they tried to apply it to a three-quarter-of-a-billion complaint against the pro-Trump “Make America Great Again PAC.”
“Senate confirms Democratic nominee to FEC”
The Senate voted 54-38 Tuesday to confirm Democratic political lawyer Dara Lindenbaum, whose clients included the gubernatorial campaign of Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, to serve on the Federal Election Commission.
An election lawyer with the firm Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, Lindenbaum will fill the seat of Steven Walther, an independent who was picked by Democrats and had been serving on a long-expired term. The agency, which enforces federal campaign finance laws, is designed to have three Republican and three Democratic commissioners and often deadlocks 3-3 along party lines, but in recent years it had too few commissioners to conduct official business or even hold meetings.
When Lindenbaum joins the agency, five commissioners will have been confirmed since May 2020. Commissioner Ellen Weintraub has served since 2002.
FEC Deadlocks, Again
Dave Levinthal and C. Ryan Barber at Business Insider report that the Federal Election Commission has deadlocked over a “complaint that Donald Trump’s 2020 White House campaign laundered hundreds of millions of dollars in spending through corporate entities closely tied to the ex-president and his family.” They have obtained a copy of the FEC’s letter to the Campaign Legal Center.
“Campaign finance watchdog cracks down on untraceable super PAC donations”
The Federal Election Commission signaled Friday that it will take steps to uncover some types of virtually untraceable donations to super PACs, a potentially significant shift in the enforcement of campaign finance law.
The move came as the FEC released documents resolving a complaint about a pair of 2018 donations to DefendArizona, a super PAC that supported then-Rep. Martha McSally’s (R-Ariz.) Senate bid.
The complaint, originally filed by the nonprofit watchdog group Campaign Legal Center, alleged that a pair of donations to the super PAC were not properly disclosed. The money came in from two limited liability companies, but there was no indication of who was actually behind the money before it went into the LLC.
Straw donations to super PACs run through anonymous LLCs have become increasingly common in recent years, as some wealthy political donors look to shield their contributions from the public by routing them through other entities first. The FEC has been frozen for years on what to do about these donations, effectively blessing them by not policing requirements that would have forced further disclosure.
That all apparently changed Friday. A statement from four of the six commissioners indicated that the agency would now start cracking down on these straw donations, requiring that the LLCs disclose who is actually behind the companies. There are still other avenues for untraceable money to flow into super PACs, but the LLC route has been a major one.
DNC Settles Suit Over Payment for Research in “Steele Dossier”; One ELB Reader Wonders About DNC Tactics
The Federal Election Commission has agreed to a fine of over $100,000 against the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign over an investigation into alleged misreporting of spending related to the now-infamous Steele dossier.
The FEC fined both organizations after a pair of now years-old complaints — one from the Campaign Legal Center and another from the conservative Coolidge Reagan Foundation — alleged that the party and campaign reported payments to the powerhouse Democratic law firm Perkins Coie as legal expenses, when in actuality some of the money was earmarked for “paying Fusion GPS through Perkins Coie to conduct opposition research on Donald Trump,” as the Campaign Legal Center’s original complaint read.
The DNC and the Clinton campaign collectively agreed to pay $113,000 in fines, according to separate conciliation agreements the agency made with both parties. The DNC will pay $105,000 and the Clinton campaign $8,000.
The FEC conciliation agreements were made public Wednesday after the Coolidge Reagan Foundation first shared a response letter from the agency with the Washington Examiner. POLITICO independently obtained a second, and similar, letter the agency sent to the CLC.
The Steele dossier, which was first made public when BuzzFeed News published it in January 2017, contained a variety of accurate, inaccurate, unproven and sometimes salacious allegations about ties between Russia and Donald Trump, as well as others in his orbit.
The conciliation agreements found “probable cause to believe” that both the campaign and national party “misreport[ed] the purpose of certain disbursements” when they said certain payments to Perkins Coie were for legal fees….
An ELB reader writes:
There is something off about the Fusion GPS settlement. Why did the DNC use Perkins (or, the current ELG folks) to represent them in a matter that primarily involved Perkins? The whole MUR is about Perkins’ conduct—why didn’t they pull in Covington or Sandler Reiff? They even used the same lawyer who does most of the DNC work, and who must have been involved in the initial reporting issues. I don’t have any special insight here, but I don’t think the party should have settled this matter. Trump is 43-0 at the Commission, but the biggest DNC matter involving the 2016 elections is settled? A settlement that can be taken by conspiracy theorists and the Fox News crowd as an admission of some sort of responsibility in this whole Fusion mess?
“Donald Trump Is Now Miraculously 43-0 Against ‘Partisan’ FEC”
Roger Sollenberger for the Daily Beast:
Donald Trump may have been impeached twice, and he’s taken some lumps in court, but in one legal arena he is hands-down the undefeated reigning champ: campaign finance law.
It’s not even close.
According to a review of filings with the Federal Election Commission, the agency with jurisdiction over campaign finance law, Trump has over the last six years posted a 43-0 record in cases referred for possible violations.
And the single reason that the FEC has never acted is because none of the agency’s three Republican commissioners have ever voted against Trump….
Of course, anyone can bring a complaint to the FEC. You don’t have to know the ins and outs of campaign finance law, and you don’t have to have any evidence. You can claim that the Trump campaign stole money from you when it was actually a donation from someone who has the same name, or allege that a Trump campaign Google ad is actually a violation of federal law, because you had searched “donate Joe Biden.” The agency’s attorneys will actually look into it.
But setting aside the 15 Trump complaints that appear frivolous, petty or unfounded, 28 legitimate grievances remain—most of them filed by attorneys who have years of experience with campaign finance law.
Of those 28 complaints, the internal nonpartisan Office of General Counsel found reason to believe that campaign finance violations had occurred in 22 of them. In every instance, the Republican commissioners voted to block action.
Notably, the three Republican commissioners are Trump-appointed. But Trump also appointed three Supreme Court justices, and they have ruled against his interest, sometimes in surprising ways.
“Scoop: Biden taps new election money regulator”
President Biden plans to nominate election law attorney Dara Lindenbaum to the Federal Election Commission, Axios has learned.
Why it matters: The nomination gives Biden an opportunity to try to shape some U.S. election rules in the wake of Congress’ failure to advance sweeping election reform.
Lindenbaum’s pick comes on the 12th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which struck down a ban on corporate political spending.
What’s happening: If confirmed, Lindenbaum, a Democrat, will replace FEC vice-chair Steven Walther, who has served on the commission since 2006.
Walther is an independent, but is generally seen as part of the FEC’s Democratic bloc.
As a result, Lindenbaum likely will not alter the commission’s 3-3 partisan split.
In a statement, Walther said he will continue serving until his replacement is confirmed.