In the 2016 elections, the super PAC Correct The Record — notorious for its plans to “push back against” Hillary Clinton’s critics online — declared that it would coordinate its activities with the Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Hillary For America . CTR’s founder and chair, David Brock, even publicly stated that CTR was “basically under the thumb” of the campaign.
Under federal campaign finance law an individual could only contribute $2,700 to Clinton’s campaign in 2016. However, as an “independent” super PAC, CTR could accept unlimited amounts from individual donors or corporations — as long as the super PAC did not coordinate with the Clinton campaign.
If CTR’s spending was coordinated, the law would treat that spending as a contribution, since it would no longer be independent and would have had substantial value to the Clinton campaign.
Despite spending over $9 million on opposition research, campaign spokesperson training and booking, video production, press outreach, and other activities — many of which, by CTR’s own admission, were conducted in coordination with the Clinton campaign — yet the Clinton campaign never reported receiving in-kind contributions from CTR, and CTR never reported the activities as contributions.
In October of 2016, CLC filed a complaint with the FEC alleging that CTR had made, and the Clinton campaign had received, millions of dollars in illegal, unreported, and excessive in-kind contributions in the form of coordinated expenditures.
Following CLC’s complaint, the FEC’s career staff attorneys concluded that CTR’s $9 million scheme likely violated the law and recommended that the agency pursue the matter. The two Democratic Commissioners agreed — but the two Republican Commissioners voted against the recommendation causing a deadlock. Without four votes to pursue the matter, the case is dismissed.
The law gives complainants the right to sue the FEC if the dismissal was contrary to law. In this case, CTR officials openly admitted that the super PAC’s spending was coordinated with the Clinton campaign, but the campaign never reported any in-kind contributions from CTR, nor did it disclose the nature of all the coordinated expenditures.
The lawsuit calls for the court to find that the FEC’s dismissal of the complaints was “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion, and otherwise contrary to the law,” and seeks a judicial order demanding the FEC enforce the law within 30 days.
The FEC’s failure to enforce the law only helps to further amplify the influence of big donors over democracy.