Bloomberg BNA: FEC to Eye Super PAC’s Hiring of Trump Campaign Workers

Future Enforcement Action Uncertain

The ability of super PACs and other outside groups to influence elections has increased sharply in recent years and can be far greater than the power of candidates operating on their own with limited funding. If super PACs and candidates can work hand-in-glove, candidate contribution limits could become meaningless, according to critics such as the watchdog group Campaign Legal Center (CLC).

Direct contributions to candidates remain limited—capped at $2,700 per election for an individual contributor in 2016. Super PACs can collect unlimited contributions—sometimes millions of dollars—from wealthy donors, corporations and unions.

CLC filed complaints with the FEC during the 2016 election cycle, pressing the agency to enforce anti-coordination rules against super PACs supporting Trump and Hillary Clinton. Determining how closely the Mercer-funded super PAC and others worked with the candidates they supported in 2016 would be crucial to possible future FEC enforcement action, as well as how outside spending groups will be able to operate in future campaigns.

In virtually all previous cases involving alleged illegal coordination, however, the FEC declined to take enforcement action or even to open a formal investigation.

Payments to Video Company, Data Analyst

CLC recently supplemented its complaint against Trump’s campaign and the Mercer-funded Make America Number 1, accusing the super PAC of making illegal campaign contributions by paying Bannon, who was announced in August by Trump’s campaign as its chief executive.

Despite that announcement of Bannon’s position last summer, Trump’s campaign has never reported any salary or other payments to Bannon. A video production company and a data analysis company that apparently are linked to Bannon have received large payments from the pro-Trump super PAC, according to CLC.

The supplemental complaint filed Dec. 2 by CLC said that, after Bannon joined Trump’s campaign, the Mercer-backed Make America Number 1 paid nearly $280,000 to “Glittering Steel LLC,” a production company located at the same Beverly Hills address as Bannon’s consulting firm. Additionally, Make America Number 1 paid more than $4.6 million to Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm also incorporated at the same address as Bannon’s consulting firm. The board of Cambridge Analytica includes both Bannon and Mercer.

CLC said that, after it filed an initial FEC complaint on this matter in October, Bannon’s consulting firm, Bannon Strategic Advisors, Inc., made a new filing with the California Secretary of State listing a different address.

Common Vendor

According to the CLC complaint filed with the FEC, Trump’s campaign also contracted with Cambridge Analytica, indicating that the campaign and Make America Number 1 ran afoul of the FEC’s “common vendor” rule. The rule restricts a candidate’s campaign and a super PAC supporting the candidate from using the same vendors for campaign services, such as targeting voters.

“The evidence suggests a Mercer-backed super PAC secretly subsidized Steve Bannon’s work for the Trump campaign,” Brendan Fischer, associate counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement announcing the latest FEC supplemental complaint.

Previously, complaints filed by CLC also have alleged violations of FEC coordination rules by other super PACs and presidential campaigns. For example, one complaint said the rules were violated when another pro-Trump super PAC, called Rebuilding American Now, was formed by two of Trump’s former campaign staffers, Laurance Gay and Kenneth McKay, almost immediately after they left Trump’s campaign committee.

A separate CLC complaint filed in October alleged that a super PAC supporting Democratic presidential nominee Clinton also violated the FEC coordination rules. The pro-Clinton super PAC, called Correct the Record, asserted that it was allowed to coordinate directly with the Clinton campaign as long as it didn’t run paid advertising.

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