Cambridge Analytica, the London-based data analysis firm that used Facebook to collect personal information about millions of Americans and then shared it with Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, appears to have violated federal election laws that limit foreign involvement in U.S. elections, Common Cause charged today.
In complaints to the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department, the nonpartisan government watchdog organization said evidence indicates Cambridge employees from Canada, Great Britain, and other European countries helped formulate and execute major campaign decisions for Republican candidates in 2014 and ‘16. That would violate a federal law that permits foreign nationals to carry out only minor tasks in U.S. campaigns.
“Our campaign finance laws must be enforced by the FEC and the Justice Department in order to safeguard the integrity of our elections from foreign interference,” said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn. “These companies and individuals ignored the law, enriched themselves performing millions of dollars of prohibited work for candidates and committees, and then boasted about the effectiveness of their activities in swaying U.S. elections.”
The complaints charge that in addition to working for the Trump campaign, the Cambridge Analytica employees appear to have illegally assisted Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s failed presidential campaign and a super PAC run by John Bolton, a former Bush administration official named by President Trump last week to serve as his national security advisor.
Cambridge, whose leaders then included Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon – later President Trump’s chief political strategist – was warned by its own attorney in 2014 to make sure its employees limited their U.S. political involvement, The Washington Post reported today.
The Post quoted three former Cambridge employees as saying the firm’s employees were involved in helping Republican legislative and congressional candidates appeals to specific voter groups, manage campaign relations with the news media, raise money, plan events and write speeches, among other roles.
“It defies belief that even after their own attorneys warned them that they were violating the prohibition on performing election-related activities in U.S. elections that they continued to do so unabated,” said Paul S. Ryan, Common Cause’s vice president for policy and litigation. “A full investigation must be conducted, and if these apparently repeated violations prove to have violated our laws then there must be punishment levied sufficient to deter similar lawbreaking in the future.”
Common Cause also has filed Justice Department and FEC complaints concerning the payment of $130,000 to “adult” film actress Stormy Daniels by a Trump organization attorney, Michael Cohen, in exchange for her silence about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2005.
Cohen has said he “facilitated” the payment using his own funds and that neither Trump nor the Trump campaign has reimbursed him. The Common Cause complaints, which were buttressed by Daniels interview Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” allege that the payment was intended to help Trump’s presidential run and thus should be considered a campaign contribution.
If the money actually came from Cohen, it would be an illegal campaign contribution, far above the $2,700 limit on donations set by federal law, Common Cause alleges. If it came from Trump himself, the contribution would be legal but the campaign’s failure to report it would violate election law.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Money in Politics