CLC Scores a Win Following FEC Inaction on Clinton Coordination Scheme

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A gavel resting on top of a stack of money

After failing to act on a 2016 complaint brought by Campaign Legal Center (CLC), the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has been directed by the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia to take action regarding a massive coordination scheme between the 2016 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton and a super PAC called Correct the Record.

The original FEC complaint alleged that Correct the Record (CTR) had openly coordinated millions of dollars of spending with the Clinton campaign in violation of federal disclosure requirements and contribution limits. If CTR’s spending was coordinated, the law would treat that spending as a contribution since it would provide the same direct benefits as a contribution to the Clinton campaign.  

This coordination was conducted under the pretext that most of the spending in question qualified for the FEC’s regulatory exemption for unpaid internet communications. But as the complaint documented, much of CTR’s $9 million budget did not pay for internet activities and instead went to offline work such as opposition research, campaign surrogate training and press outreach and messaging.  

In 2019, the Commission deadlocked on whether to find reason to believe violations of federal law occurred, despite FEC career staff attorneys concluding that the scheme did likely violate the law. Later that year, CLC filed a lawsuit against the FEC for failing to uphold the law. In April of 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit cleared a path for a lawsuit, holding that CLC had standing to proceed with the case.  

On December 8th, the district court then ruled that the FEC’s dismissal of CLC’s original complaint was contrary to the law and ordered the Commission to act in a manner consistent with its order within 30 days.  

The Commission’s failure to hold the Clinton campaign and this super PAC accountable for up to $9 million in coordinated spending creates a loophole that would allow many more millions of dollars of undisclosed contributions to flow from outside groups to federal candidates.  

This latest decision takes a crucial step to ensuring that the Federal Election Commission does its job to enforce federal campaign finance law and cracks down on coordination between purportedly independent super PACs and the campaigns they seek to subsidize.

Brendan is a Senior Communications Manager for Campaign Finance and Ethics issues at CLC.