The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulations prohibit campaigns from soliciting contributions to super PACs unless certain critical measures are taken to ensure that the solicited contributions comply with federal contribution limits and prohibitions.
In May 2019, the Trump campaign issued a public statement that criticized the “dishonest fundraising” practices of certain groups and informed potential donors that America First Action—a Trump-aligned super PAC—was “authorized” and “approved” by President Trump. The Trump campaign made no effort in this solicitation to ensure contributions to America First Action complied with federal limits and prohibitions, instead issuing a blanket endorsement of contributions to the “approved” super PAC. Federal candidates are prohibited from soliciting contributions that could include corporate funds and amounts from individuals that exceed federal limits.
ECU and CLCA filed a complaint with the FEC against Trump’s campaign that same week. Although the FEC’s General Counsel recommended finding that there was reason to believe the Trump campaign had violated the law, the Commission deadlocked 3-2 and closed the case. Four votes are required for the FEC to act on a complaint, and the FEC is the sole government agency tasked with enforcing federal campaign finance law.
The FEC also delayed releasing any explanation of its decision to dismiss the complaint for more than two months and until after ECU’s 60-day deadline to challenge the FEC’s dismissal in court. With this delay, the FEC demonstrated once again that it is not the accountable and effective watchdog this country needs.
ECU filed a lawsuit in 2021, represented by CLCA, challenging the decision of the two FEC commissioners who voted to dismiss its complaint. ECU asked the court to direct the FEC to take action to hold the Trump campaign accountable for their unlawful solicitation.
What's At Stake
Federal law and FEC regulations require certain measures be taken to ensure contributions to super PACs solicited by candidates comply with contribution limits and other prohibitions. When the Trump campaign solicited contributions to the “approved” super PAC, America First Action, it took no such measures and issued a blanket endorsement of contributions to the super PAC. Not only did the FEC fail to act to hold the Trump campaign accountable, but the FEC did not provide the required explanation as to why they failed to enforce the law.
This is yet another instance in which a campaign finance violation went uninvestigated and unpunished, and those who should be enforcing the law threw a veil of confusion over the proceedings by not explaining their actions in a reasonable and timely way. Instead of a functioning FEC that protects the trust of voters, American voters are left with a dysfunctional system that allows corruption to thrive while wealthy special interests wield outsized power over the political system. To prevent political corruption, we need a strong FEC to enforce campaign finance laws and hold political candidates and their donors accountable.