The Federal Election Campaign Act requires candidates for public office to declare their candidacy and file reports that disclose who their donors are and how they spend campaign funds, including political contributions. FECA also prohibits super PACs from donating to candidates and their campaigns or coordinating with them.
Starting in 2017, Rick Scott and his nascent Senate campaign engaged in a blatant scheme to circumvent these important anti-corruption and pro-transparency laws. Scott illegally delayed declaring his candidacy with the FEC to avoid triggering federal requirements, while co-opting New Republican PAC to raise millions of dollars outside the legal limitations, which would later be spent supporting his campaign.
In May 2017, when Scott became Chair of New Republican, the super PAC had made no independent expenditures since 2014 and had not received a contribution in over a year. Scott quickly staffed the super PAC with his political allies, declared a new mission (to support then-President Trump’s policies while rebranding the Republican Party), and ramped up fundraising operations, raising over a million dollars by the end of 2017 and a further $1.2 million in the first quarter of 2018.
Yet the super PAC did not spend any of that money on its purported new mission. Indeed, while Scott was Chair, New Republican continued to make no independent expenditures in support of any candidates, and it aired no issue ads. That all changed when Scott announced his Senate campaign in April 2018.
The day of Scott’s announcement, New Republican rolled out a new website — prepared and paid for in advance — and a new objective: electing Rick Scott. This time New Republican meant it, spending over $29 million on that objective in the 2018 election, almost all either in support of Scott or in opposition to Sen. Bill Nelson, his Democratic rival.
CLCA, on behalf of ECU, sued the FEC for its dismissal of ECU’s administrative complaints detailing the campaign finance violations of Scott and New Republican. The district court, however, affirmed the FEC’s dismissals of ECU’s complaints. In so doing, the district court both misinterpreted the law and mischaracterized the FEC’s actions. Consequently, CLCA — on behalf of ECU — has appealed the district court decision to the D.C. Circuit, asking the Circuit Court to correct the district court’s obvious errors.
What’s at Stake
Voters have a right to know which wealthy special interests are spending big money to secretly influence our votes and our government. Campaign finance laws are in place to ensure that voters are informed about who candidates are beholden to, and to prevent the corrupting influence of wealthy special interests from commandeering elections. It’s time for the Court to step in and make clear that co-opting a super PAC isn’t a clever way of raising money — it’s a violation of the law.