CLC Files Complaint Against the FEC Over Delay on Senator Ernst Dark Money Group

Joni Ernst and Marsha Blackburn sitting in chairs on a stage. Joni Ernst is waving.
Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa (left) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee (right) greet guests as they arrive to address the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Thursday, February 27, 2020, in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI/Alamy Live News

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) today over its delay in enforcing the Federal Election Campaign Act’s (FECA) requirement that a group whose “major purpose” is supporting the re-election campaign of Senator Joni Ernst register with the FEC.  

The complaint seeks FEC action on an administrative complaint CLC filed with the agency last year, alleging that Iowa Values, “a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, violated the Federal Election Campaign Act (“FECA”) by failing to register as a political committee and failing to report its contributions, expenditures, and debts.”  

The administrative complaint was filed over 190 days ago, and the agency has yet to take action. Meanwhile, Iowa voters still have little information about a group that has a self-described mission to, “[H]ighlight the work of Sen. Joni Ernst.” Voters have a right to know the identity of wealthy special interests seeking to influence our elections. 

According to a CLC poll, over 80% of voters want more transparency about the source of secret (or dark) money in our elections. Senator Ernst is currently locked into a tight Senatorial campaign during a year of a deep economic, public health, and civil rights concerns for Iowans. 

The least Iowans should be able to expect from the only federal agency dedicated to enforcing our campaign finance laws is action to ensure that the sources of spending in groups like Iowa Values is transparent, so they, “can see whether elected officials are  ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests,” a First Amendment value embraced by eight Justices in the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. 

CLC's administrative complaint provides clear evidence that Iowa Values's major purpose is to promote the election of Senator Ernst. 

“‘In July 2019, Claire Holloway Avella, the founder and president of Holloway Consulting and a fundraiser for Senator Ernst’s campaign committee sent an email to a potential donor soliciting funds ‘on behalf of Iowa Values.’ The email included the subject line ‘Fundraising Request from Iowa Values 501(c)(4) - promoting issues Senator Joni Ernst advocates,’ and attached a strategy memo from Iowa Values that described the organization’s plans to target communications supportive of Senator Ernst to those voters who ‘represent the ‘firewall’ between winning and losing in 2020 for Senator Ernst.” 

Those voters described as representing the “firewall” between Ernst’s re-election or not have a right to know who is seeking to influence their votes, FECA requires it, and the FEC has a responsibility to enforce the law. After all, the agency is meant to represent voters, not secret money groups. 

Erin handles media relations for the CLC team and creates online content.