Facebook Campaign Spending Draws FEC Complaints from Common Cause

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  • David Vance

Today Common Cause filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging that Michael Waddell, the host of the hunting show “Bone Collector”, and a Wisconsin businessman made illegal undisclosed independent expenditures in connection with the 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns of Donald Trump. Additionally, Waddell appears to have made excessive in-kind contributions during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The apparent violations were brought to light by a Vice News report on illegal political advertising on Facebook and the complete lack of disclosure on the social media platform.

“Russian Facebook advertising in support of Donald Trump is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to illegal but largely untraceable political expenditures made through social media,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “The complaints we are filing today stem from investigative reporting but this information should be fully available to the public, because it is the public these expenditures are designed to influence. Hopefully the Russia scandal, and more that will surely follow, will spur Congress and the FEC to finally act to regulate this increasingly important tool that is wielded not only by campaigns, but also by any individuals and entities with a stake in the outcomes of elections – including foreign governments.”

According to the Vice report a Wisconsin businessman failed to disclose that he spent tens of thousands of dollars to promote ten Facebook pages he owns and operates and which all expressly advocate the election of Donald Trump as President. Since the creation of the “Trump 2020” page in November 2016, the owner has reportedly paid Facebook more than $34,000 to promote the Trump pages which have amassed more than 1.7 million Facebook “likes.” The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) requires that any person who makes independent expenditures of more than $250 a year in support of a candidate to disclose those expenditures to the FEC.

The report also revealed that during the 2016 presidential campaign “Michael Waddell’s Bone Collector” Facebook page, which is used to promote his show and hunting business and has nearly a million “likes”, paid Facebook to promote a post which expressly advocated the election of Donald Trump as President. No disclosure of the expenditure was made to the FEC. The promoted post linked to a YouTube video produced by the Trump Campaign and which included the message “Paid for by Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.” Under FECA the “dissemination, distribution, or republication” of candidate campaign materials is considered an in-kind contribution and if it’s value is more than $2,700 it would constitute an excessive contribution.

To read the complaint against Michael Waddell, click here.

To read the complaint against the owner of the Trump 2020 Facebook page, click here.