A government ethics watchdog Tuesday filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission after audio from a secretly recorded conversation implied the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tipped the scales in favor of their preferred candidate, and may have violated campaign finance laws in the process.
The secret recording of a conversation between House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Levi Tillemann, a Democrat candidate for the 6th Congressional District in Colorado, was made last December. The audio became public after the Intercept published it in April with Tillemann's consent after some names and private information were edited out.
Hoyer makes plain to Tillemann in the recording that some higher-ups in the Democratic party preferred Army veteran and corporate lawyer Jason Crow be the party's nominee in the district.
The Intercept's story on the audio included a quote from David Aarestad, who by that time had dropped out of the same race.
"But, they [the DCCC] made polling data available to Crow that they did not make available to me," Aarestad was quoted as saying. "They made other resources available to Crow that they did not make available to me, such as email lists for fundraising purposes."
FACT wrote in its complaint that the polling data and email lists were in-kind contributions that appear not to have been reported, but should have been.
"Candidate reporting requirements exist to prevent corruption and ensure transparency in our elections, which is something the DCCC showed a blatant disregard for in this case," Kendra Arnold, FACT's executive director, said in a statement.
"What's equally disturbing is that this type of Machiavellian behavior has been endorsed by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi," Arnold added.
Requests for comment from the DCCC and the Jason Crow campaign were not returned. Hoyer's office declined to comment on the record.
Colorado's 6th District is likely to be one of the most competitive house races in the country; Republican Mike Coffman, a former Marine and state treasurer who is now in his fifth term, currently holds the seat. He has defeated formidable opponents in the last two elections: a former speaker of the Colorado house and president of the state senate.
A key component of the allegation is determining what a likely value of the email lists and polling would be in hard dollars. The complaint argues that, "based upon the industry standard, the value of the polling information and mailing lists likely exceeded the $5,000 limit on in-kind contributions."
Hoyer is candid about Crow being the favored candidate in the audio recording. According to the Intercept’s transcript:
"Yeah, I'm for Crow," Hoyer explained. "I am for Crow because a judgment was made very early on. I didn't know Crow. I didn't participate in the decision. But a decision was made early on by the Colorado delegation," he said, referencing the three House Democrats elected from Colorado.
"So your position is, a decision was made very early on before voters had a say, and that's fine because the DCCC knows better than the voters of the 6th Congressional District, and we should line up behind that candidate," asked Tillemann during the conversation.
"That's certainly a consequence of our decision," responded Hoyer.
The release of the audio of the conversation prompted reporters to question House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on the issue, and sparked an outcry from more progressive wings of the party about the DCCC playing favorites.
"In terms of candidates and campaigns I don't see anything inappropriate in what Mr. Hoyer was engaged in—a conversation about the realities of life in the race as to who can make the general election," she told reporters.
Both Tillemann and Crow met sufficient requirements to be on the primary ballot. Voting runs for the majority of June, and concludes on June 26.
Hoyer's office declined to comment on the record.