Campaign Legal Center Files Lawsuit Against 45Committee Alleging Violations of Campaign Finance Law

The lawsuit alleges that 45Committee, a “dark money” group that worked to elect former President Donald Trump, failed to register as a political committee despite spending as much as $38 million to influence the 2016 presidential election.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed suit against 45Committee, a dark money group that spent as much as $38 million to influence the 2016 presidential election, for failing to register as a political action committee (PAC). The group reportedly served to fill a need for a “nondisclosing vehicle” through which donors who wished to support then-candidate Donald Trump, but found doing so publicly “embarrassing,” could anonymously support his campaign. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) requires an organization whose major purpose is to elect a federal candidate to register as a PAC with the FEC and file detailed periodic financial reports. Despite reporting that it spent more than $21 million on ads explicitly supporting Trump or opposing his opponent and likely spending as much as $38 million total on political ads in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election, 45Committee has never registered with the FEC.

“Voters have a right to know which wealthy special interests are spending big money to secretly influence our vote and our government,” said Kevin P. Hancock, director of strategic litigation at Campaign Legal Center. “In the absence of FEC action, CLC is exercising its right to enforce FECA's disclosure requirements and ensure 45Committee complies with federal law.”

The complaint alleges that 45Committee violated federal law by failing to register as a political committee, disclose its contributors and report how much money it raised and spent to elect Trump. As a result, voters have been denied the right to be fully informed about 45Committee’s efforts to influence a presidential election.

In August 2018, CLC filed a complaint with the FEC providing evidence that 45Committee had violated federal campaign finance law. In late March 2020, after no action was taken by the agency, CLC filed suit against the FEC for failing to enforce federal transparency laws. In November 2021, the district court granted judgment in favor of CLC, finding that the FEC’s failure to act was unlawful, and ordered the FEC to take action on the complaint. After months of further inaction by the agency, the district court issued an order on April 21, 2022, authorizing CLC to "bring an action to enforce FECA against the alleged violator," 45Committee.

Wealthy special interests use unlimited, secret money to rig the political system in their favor. Voters need real transparency about who is spending this money – but repeated failures by the FEC to properly enforce campaign finance laws have only encouraged an explosion of secret spending.

To reduce political corruption and shine a light on this spending, we need a stronger FEC to enforce our campaign finance laws. When the FEC fails to act, groups like CLC are obliged to step up and ensure that federal campaign finance law is enforced in the courts.

At Campaign Legal Center, we are advancing democracy through law. Learn more about our work.