Victory: Following Complaint, Trump Campaign Changes FEC Filings to Fix False Report

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  • David Vance

In response to a complaint filed by Common Cause and the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging President Trump’s campaign was attempting to violate the contribution limits for his 2020 reelection, the latest campaign finance reports show the Trump campaign has redesignated thousands of entries to count against the contributor’s 2020 election limits and not, as originally reported, for the 2016 election.

The March 2 complaint alleged that Trump’s campaign committee violated federal election law by attributing campaign contributions received after Election Day to 2016 “debt retirement,” even though no debt existed, rather than to the 2020 election. These false reports, which were included on both the post-general and year-end filings, would have had the effect of illegally increasing the amount Trump could accept from contributors for his 2020 reelection campaign.

On Trump’s FEC report filed last week, his campaign backed away from its apparent attempt to evade the 2020 contribution limits by altering thousands of entries that had appeared on its earlier reports, and re-designating those contributions from “2016 debt retirement” to the 2020 primary.

“Regardless of any excuse offered by the campaign for filing false reports, it is clear that future FEC filings by the campaign will require close monitoring for compliance,” said Paul S. Ryan, Common Cause V.P. for Policy and Litigation. “The FEC must police these filings itself as the Trump campaign has clearly abandoned its 2016 primary season criticism of donor contributions as corrupting and is now very much in the business of raising money aggressively for the 2020 election.”

“By falsely reporting post-election contributions towards 2016 debt retirement on two separate FEC reports, Trump would have illegally doubled what a contributor could give for the 2020 primaries,” said Brendan Fischer, federal and FEC program director at the Campaign Legal Center. “Additionally, for some of these contributions, the law requires that Trump’s campaign committee receive a donor’s written approval to re-designate their contribution for a future election—and it is not clear the Trump campaign has done so. While the FEC has not yet made public whether it is taking or has taken any action, it should demand a civil penalty from the Trump campaign as a deterrent against future attempts to evade the contribution limits.”

Trump began fundraising for his reelection just days after his Nov. 8 victory. Federal law provides that a candidate may only raise funds after Election Day to retire outstanding debts from the election, or for a future election. But the Trump campaign ended the 2016 election with no outstanding net debt—therefore, all contributions made after Election Day should have either been refunded to contributors or designated for the 2020 primary election. An individual who gave the maximum contribution and had it attributed to 2016 debt retirement might give an additional contribution and have it attributed to the 2020 primary, even though the entirety of both contributions would be used for 2020.

To read the complaint, click here.