Fact Check: Sarah Sanders Inaccurately States Law Regarding Campaigns’ Ability to Finance Opposition Research


This afternoon at the daily White House press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders misstated current law when insinuating that the DNC and Hillary Clinton acted illegally in paying for opposition research into the Trump campaign, while the Trump campaign merely “took a meeting.”  

Adav Noti, CLC’s senior director of trial litigation, explains the distinction in the law, which Sanders has misrepresented:

“Opposition research is a central element of modern political campaigning. Candidates from both parties legally pay millions of dollars every cycle for opposition research. However, if a campaign solicits or accepts opposition research without paying for it, the value of that research constitutes a solicitation for, or an in-kind contribution to, the campaign.”

According to available information, the Clinton campaign paid for opposition research into the Trump campaign, which reportedly resulted in the so-called Steele Dossier. That is legal – although the campaign’s failure to report those payments may be illegal. Campaigns may legally pay foreign nationals to provide services to their campaign.

The difference is Trump campaign solicited opposition research from Russia without paying for it. We now know that the Trump campaign learned in April 2016 that Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” and in June 2016 Trump Jr. agreed to a meeting with a Russian government lawyer with the apparent expectation that this research would be turned over. The solicitation of that opposition research was illegal. Foreign nationals are prohibited from giving a contribution to a campaign; in the form of money, or in the form of an “in-kind contribution” like services or information. Just as it’s illegal for a foreign national to give a $100,000 check as a contribution to a politician, it is also illegal for a foreign national to give $100,000 worth of free services as a contribution to the politician.

The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog, filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission to investigate both the DNC and Clinton for failing to properly disclose these payments for opposition research, as well as the Trump campaign for illegally soliciting a contribution from a foreign national