At a Glance
CLC sued the Federal Election Commission for its failure to enforce transparency laws, allowing large, anonymous donors to funnel millions of dollars into political activity through 45Committee, a dark money group. The FEC’s failure to act threatens transparency and public trust in our elections.Back to top
About this Action
In August 2018, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed an administrative complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) demonstrating that a dark money group called 45Committee, Inc. violated federal campaign finance law by failing to register as a political committee and disclose its donors. After waiting more than 575 days for the FEC to act, CLC filed suit against the agency in late March 2020 for failing to enforce federal transparency laws.
45Committee spent over $22 million political ads during the 2016 and 2018 elections, the vast majority of which sought to support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Press reports reveal that 45Committee was formed precisely to provide certain large donors the means to anonymously support then-candidate Trump without having to face public scrutiny. By failing to register as a PAC, 45Committee was able to avoid disclosing its donors, along with other information required by federal law. 45Committee has successfully kept the American public in the dark. It is the FEC’s job to prevent such attempts to circumvent public accountability.
The Commission’s failure to act on CLC’s complaint against 45Committee is part of a long pattern of dysfunction and delay. The FEC lacked a quorum for six months during the past year, and currently has a backlog of over 300 pending cases. The FEC’s inaction allows dark money groups like 45Committee to violate campaign finance law without facing repercussion.
What's at Stake?
Transparency around who is spending money to support or to oppose candidates for federal office is a cornerstone of our democracy. Under federal law, organizations that exist predominantly to engage in political activity—including spending money on political advertising to support their preferred candidate—are required to register as political committees (PACs) with the FEC and report their donors, along with other information about their financial resources.
In the administrative complaint filed with the FEC in 2018, CLC demonstrated that 45Committee’s major purpose—as evidenced by its name, political spending in 2016, fundraising appeals, and public statements—was plainly to support the election of its preferred candidates—namely Donald Trump. Nonetheless, 45Committee never registered as a political committee and never filed the required reports disclosing its contributors, expenditures, or debts and obligations.
By allowing organizations like 45Committee to evade federal law and leave the public in the dark about who is spending money to influence elections without repercussion, the FEC undermines public trust in our elections. The lack of enforcement and lack of any consequence for illegal behavior encourages 45Committee and others who seek to emulate 45Committee’s activities to continue to violate campaign finance law.
In order to ensure transparency and accountability in federal elections, violations like those uncovered by CLC here must be investigated and acted upon to ensure the public knows which interests are supporting or opposing candidates in the 2020 election.