President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and the Republican National Committee are running an elaborate scheme to skirt federal election laws and use illegal “soft money” contributions for the Trump-Pence reelection campaign, Common Cause charges in complaints filed today at the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission.
The complaints allege that a dark money political organization and its sister super PAC, created at Trump’s and Pence’s direction and dedicated to their reelection are breaking laws that limit the amount of money they can accept from each donor, require them to identify their donors, and say they must remain independent of any candidate or campaign organization.
“In their single-minded rush to raise and spend millions of dollars to influence elections, it does not appear that the president, his staff, or the RNC made any effort at all to obey the contribution limits and coordination prohibitions passed by congress to curb political corruption,” said Paul S. Ryan, Common Cause vice president for policy and litigation.
“The Justice Department and the FEC must act decisively to curb these abuses swiftly, as these organizations have already raised tens of millions of dollars to spend on the 2018 midterm and 2020 presidential elections, have plans to raise and spend far more, and are showing no indications that they plan to begin obeying the law.”
One of the groups – America First Action, Inc. – styles itself as a “super PAC,” which allows it to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money but requires that it remain at arm’s length from candidates and campaign and party organizations.
The other group, America First Policies, claims to be a tax-exempt, nonprofit “social welfare” organization; tax law allows such groups to conceal their donors but specifies that they can spend no more than half their money to support or oppose candidates.
The complaints allege that in fact, both groups are working directly with Trump, Pence, their campaign organization, and the RNC. Trump campaign insiders including former Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski and current reelection drive manager Brad Parscale have been instrumental in operating the groups and planning their fundraising for the 2018 and 2020 elections, the complaints charge.
The joint efforts have proven lucrative for Trump associates, the complaints suggest.
Among other connections, the complaints cite published reports that firms led by Parscale were paid more than 5.5 million in 2017 by Trump’s reelection campaign. Lewandowski’s consulting firm meanwhile, received $55,000 from America First Action and Parscale's firms collected more than $2 million for “management consulting” from the RNC.
The complaints also cite a CNBC report, based on documents the network obtained from a portal on America First Policies’ website, that the group used “three top polling firms from Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to produce a steady stream of Trump-focused polls, strategy memos and reports that continue to this day.
While America First Policies invested in polling, the RNC scaled back its usual surveys, breaking a pattern dating to the Reagan administration.
The complaints cite federal law specifying that any gift, loan or other thing of value provided “for the purpose of influencing any election for federal office” is considered a campaign contribution and is subject to legal limits – $2,700 annually for donations from an individual to a campaign and $33,000 annually for individual contributions to a national party committee.
“Americans expect and deserve a President who abides by the laws of the land, but the White House, the campaign, and the RNC seem to have simply ignored restrictions on coordination with the outside groups in order to raise and spend millions of dollars in illegal soft money,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause.
“These actions are the latest in a long list of the President and officials in his campaign and his administration simply ignoring the laws they find inconvenient. But no one is above the law in our nation, not even the President,” Hobert Flynn added.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Money in Politics