On May 7, 2020, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed an administrative complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), alleging that Big Tent Project Fund (Big Tent Project), a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, violated federal law by failing to register as a political committee and failing to report its contributions, expenditures and debts. CLC’s administrative complaint provides compelling evidence that Big Tent Project’s major purpose was defeating Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.
CLC further alleged that, even if Big Tent Project were not a political committee, it still violated federal law by failing to disclose the identities of contributors who gave for political purposes and funded its independent expenditures and by failing to report all its independent expenditures exceeding $250.
On May 19, 2021, after the FEC failed to act on CLC’s administrative complaint for more than a year, CLC sued the FEC over its inaction. CLC asks the court to declare that the FEC’s failure to act on CLC’s complaint is contrary to law and order the FEC to act within 30 days. If the FEC does not act within 30 days, the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) authorizes CLC to commence a civil action against Big Tent Project directly.
What’s at Stake?
Transparency around who is spending money to support or oppose federal candidates is a cornerstone of federal campaign finance law and critical to our democracy, as voters have a right to know who is paying to influence our votes and our government. Under FECA, organizations that exist primarily to engage in political activity—including making expenditures to support their preferred candidates—must register as political action committees (PAC) with the FEC and disclose their donors, along with other information about their financial activities.
CLC’s administrative complaint explained that Big Tent Project’s election spending and public statements by and about the group provide strong reason to believe that its major purpose was defeating Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. But Big Tent Project failed to register as a federal PAC or file reports disclosing its contributions and expenditures, as required by FECA. Big Tent Project further violated FECA by failing to disclose the identities of contributors who gave for political purposes and funded its independent expenditures and by failing to report all of its independent expenditures exceeding $250.
By allowing organizations like Big Tent Project to evade federal transparency requirements, the FEC leaves the public in the dark about who is seeking to influence our vote and our government and undermines voters’ trust in our democratic process. The lack of consequence for illegal behavior encourages Big Tent Project and others like it to continue to violate campaign finance laws.
To reduce political corruption, we need a stronger FEC to enforce campaign finance laws and hold political candidates and their donors accountable. As part of this, the FEC should investigate and act on potential FECA violations like those alleged in CLC’s administrative complaint.