CLC Sues Secret Money Group, 45Committee, for Violating Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws

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gavel and money

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed suit against 45Committee, a secret money group that spent as much as $38 million in 2016 to help elect former President Donald Trump. The suit alleges that 45Committee failed to register as a political committee as required by federal law, thereby avoiding disclosure of its donors and spending.

This suit, filed on April 22, 2022, is one of a small, but growing number of cases where a court has authorized CLC or other organizations to step in to enforce federal campaign finance laws directly against alleged violators. These suits are typically brought after the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the agency tasked with enforcement of the Federal Election Campaign Act, fails to act.

Federal law requires an organization whose major purpose is to elect federal candidates and that receives or spends more than $1,000 in a year to influence federal elections to register as a PAC, disclose its contributors and report its fundraising and spending to the FEC. This reporting ensures that American voters know who is spending to influence their vote.

45Committee — the very name of which reflects its mission to help elect the 45th president — spent as much as $38 million on political ads to help elect former President Trump in just the five weeks leading up to the 2016 election.

During that time, 45Committee ran more than 5,000 ads in key swing states — more than even the Republican National Committee (RNC). But 45Committee never registered as a PAC with the FEC.

Instead, according to reporting in Politico, 45Committee served to meet “a substantial appetite for a nondisclosing vehicle” for Republican donors who found publicly supporting Trump in the 2016 presidential election “embarrassing.”

When a political committee refuses to disclose its donors and conceals its sources of funding and the recipients of its spending in support of a federal candidate, voters are denied critical information about who is influencing elections — information voters have a right to under federal law. Americans are entitled to know what interests are spending money to influence their vote.

CLC’s lawsuit asks the court to find that 45Committee was obligated to register as a PAC and order it to file reports with the FEC disclosing its donors and its fundraising and spending in support of Trump.

This lawsuit is the result of more than three years of effort by CLC to prod the FEC to enforce federal law against 45Committee. CLC first alerted the FEC of 45Committee’s potential violations in 2018. After waiting more than 1.5 years for the FEC to act on the matter, CLC sued the FEC in 2020 in federal court over its delay.

On Nov. 8, 2021, the court issued an order finding that the FEC’s failure to act on CLC’s allegations against 45Committee was “contrary to law” and ordering the FEC to conform by taking action on CLC’s allegations within 30 days.

After months of continued inaction by the FEC, the court issued an order on April 21, 2022, declaring that the FEC had failed to comply with the law and authorizing CLC to sue 45Committee directly over the alleged violations.

By enforcing campaign finance law against 45Committee, CLC seeks to ensure that the public has the critical information it needs to evaluate who is influencing elections.

Kevin is CLC's director, strategic litigation.
Directly Suing Groups That Fail to Register as PACs