DC Circuit finds FEC improperly dismissed complaint that alleged coordination between Clinton, PAC in 2016

Campaign Legal Center v. FEC, opinion by Judge Pillard, joined by Judges Childs and Edwards:

Leaning heavily on that internet exemption, political action committee Correct the Record set out to engage in a wide range of coordinated activities to support Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. In an administrative complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission, nonprofit watchdog Campaign Legal Center alleges that Correct the Record spent close to $6 million in coordination with the Clinton campaign during the lead-up to the 2016 election, including to conduct polls, hire teams of round-the-clock fact-checkers, and connect Clinton media surrogates with radio and television news outlets. Correct the Record publicized that it was coordinating all these activities with the Clinton campaign. But it characterized all of the committee’s myriad expenditures—from staff salaries and travel expenses to the cost of commissioning polls and renting offices—as “inputs” to unpaid communications over the internet. For that reason, neither Correct the Record nor the Clinton campaign designated any of Correct the Record’s expenditures as contributions to the campaign. . . .

We hold that the Commission acted contrary to law in dismissing the complaint. Because we conclude that the internet exemption cannot be read to exempt from disclosure those expenditures that are only tangentially related to an eventual internet message or post, the Commission’s reading of the internet exemption stretches it beyond lawful limits. As to those expenditures that it deemed not to be covered by the internet exemption, the Commission acted contrary to law in dismissing the complaint for want of reason to believe the relevant expenditures were coordinated with the campaign, despite plausible allegations that Correct the Record coordinated all its expenditures with Hillary for America—and openly acknowledged doing so.

(For more on this story from 2015 and 2016, see here, here, here, and here.)

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