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FEC sued by watchdog group for refusing to investigate Trump campaign

·3-min read
Then-President Donald Trump speaks during a ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign rally at Williamsport Regional Airport, 20 May , 2019 in Montoursville, Pennsylvania. The FEC is facing a lawsuit over its decision not to pursue an investigation into alleged campaign finance violations by the Trump campaign. (Getty Images)
Then-President Donald Trump speaks during a ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign rally at Williamsport Regional Airport, 20 May , 2019 in Montoursville, Pennsylvania. The FEC is facing a lawsuit over its decision not to pursue an investigation into alleged campaign finance violations by the Trump campaign. (Getty Images)

A government watchdog has launched a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission for refusing to investigate allegations that then-President Donald Trump’s campaign illegally coordinated with a super PAC, or political action committee, in the 2020 election race.

The lawsuit was filed on Monday in the District of Columbia by Campaign Legal Center Action on behalf of End Citizens United, a PAC working to reverse a 2010 Supreme Court decision that reversed century-old campaign finance restrictions and that has allowed corporations and other groups to spend unlimited funds on elections.

The legal bid challenges the decision by Republican FEC commissioners to refuse to hold an investigation into the allegations, which were made by End Citizens United, without providing any justification, as was first reported by The Hill.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the FEC to conduct the probe and determine whether the Trump campaign team violated campaign finance rules.

According to the lawsuit, on 7 May, 2019, the Trump campaign issued a public statement criticising the “dishonest fundraising” practices of certain groups and informing potential donors that only five entities would be “authorised” or “approved” by Mr Trump or the Republican National Committee (RNC).

“Four of those entities were official campaign or party organisations, and the fifth was America First Action – a super PAC,” the lawsuit states.

Noting that the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and FEC regulations bar campaigns from soliciting contributions to super PACs “unless certain critical measures are taken to ensure that the solicited contributions do not come from prohibited sources or exceed federal contribution limits”, the lawsuit states the Trump campaign “took no such measures in its May 7 solicitation”.

Instead, it accuses the former president’s campaign team of “issuing a blanket endorsement of contributions to the ‘approved’ super PAC – contributions that would include corporate and unlimited funds, also known as ‘soft money,’ which federal candidates are banned from soliciting.”

End Citizens United had filed an administrative complaint with the FEC, alleging that the Trump campaign had violated campaign finance laws “by soliciting and directing funds to America First Action without regard to FECA’s source prohibitions and contributions limits”, the lawsuit said.

It said that after reviewing the allegations, the FEC’s nonpartisan career attorneys in its Office of General Counsel recommended that the Commission “find reason to believe” that the Trump campaign violated campaign finance rules by “soliciting soft money contributions for America First Action”.

However, it states: “Despite compelling evidence and the recommendation of its General Counsel, on April 20, 2021, the FEC’s Commissioners deadlocked on a vote to find reason to believe that the Trump Campaign violated the law.”

“The FEC’s failure to find reason to believe and its dismissal of Plaintiff’s administrative complaint were arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law,” the lawsuit says. “The Commission did not even issue an explanation for its action, without which its decision fails to meet the most basic requirement of reasoned decision-making.”

A spokesperson for the FEC told The Independent the commission does not comment on litigation.

The development comes after the owner of the National Enquirer agreed to pay a $187,500 civil penalty to the FEC for illegally helping Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign run by suppressing a story about a woman claiming to have had an affair with him.

In that case, the commission argued that American Media Inc, the parent company of the Enquirer, and its CEO David Pecker had effectively made an illegal corporate contribution to Mr Trump’s campaign when it bought Karen McDougal’s story in August 2016 in order to keep it under wraps.

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