Government Watchdog Group Calls For Investigation Into Democratic FEC Official

Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub used her official position to demand Trump show proof of voter fraud

FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub / AP
February 21, 2017

A government watchdog group is calling for an investigation into whether a Democratic Federal Election Commission official violated federal ethics laws after demanding President Donald Trump provide evidence of voter fraud, which is outside of the FEC’s jurisdiction.

The Washington Free Beacon first reported that FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub potentially ran afoul of ethics rules after using her position to call for Trump to produce evidence of claims that he and former Sen. Kelly Ayotte lost in New Hampshire due to voter fraud.

Weintraub released an official statement using an FEC header on Feb. 10 asking Trump to substantiate his claims of voter fraud. Weintraub continued her campaign online and attempted to recruit celebrities in her efforts. Additionally, she appeared on television in her official capacity to discuss her efforts.

Cause of Action, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm, is now asking FEC Inspector General Lynne A. McFarland to open an investigation into whether Weintraub violated ethics laws when she used government property and official time to call on President Trump to produce the evidence.

"Cause of Action Institute ("CoA Institute") today called for an investigation into whether Federal Election Commission ("FEC") Commissioner Ellen Weintraub violated federal ethics laws when she demanded President Trump provide evidence of his voter fraud claims in New Hampshire," Cause of Action says in a press release. "Commissioner Weintraub used government property and official time to make these statements, and then promoted her statement on the FEC website, social media, and national media outlets."

"In its letter, CoA Institute asks the FEC’s Office of Inspector General and Designated Agency Ethics Officer to open an investigation into whether Commissioner Weintraub violated her ethical obligations and to determine whether it is appropriate for the FEC website to continue to host the statement related to voter fraud and New Hampshire criminal violations, both of which concern matters outside the agency's jurisdiction. Despite its name, the FEC has no authority over voter fraud claims."

The FEC does not have jurisdiction over voter fraud issues, a concession made by Weintraub in October 2016.

"The commissioners on the FEC are subject to a Standard of Conduct that the FEC adopted that is codified at 11 CFR Part 7. Investigating or regulating the voter fraud issue is certainly outside the jurisdiction of the FEC," Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, previously told the Free Beacon. "Part 7.13 of the Standard of Conduct states that commissioners are not allowed to directly or indirectly use Commission property ‘for other than officially approved activities.'"

"Using FEC letterhead and her authority as a commissioner to issue comments on this issue could be considered a violation of this provision since I doubt this is an ‘officially approved' activity," Spakovsky continued. "She certainly is entitled to make such comments on her own time and in her personal capacity, but not as a commissioner on the FEC according to this regulation. Anytime she appears on television, she is obligated to say she is appearing in her personal capacity and not as an official representative or member of the FEC.  If she is not doing that, then that is a potential violation."

Weintraub provided the Free Beacon with a statement that claims voter fraud falls under the jurisdiction of the FEC.

"As a Commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, I am acutely aware that our democracy rests on the faith of the American people in the integrity of their elections," Weintraub says within the statement.

"The President of the United States has, without providing evidence, alleged a massive conspiracy to bus thousands of voters from one state to another to cast illegal votes in the 2016 elections."

"Any such allegation challenging the legitimacy of federal elections would be of great concern to me," she continued. "As it happens, this particular allegation falls squarely within the jurisdiction of the Federal Election Commission, since the expense of these buses has not been accounted for on any campaign-finance filing. Accordingly, I have asked the President for his advice."

Weintraub continued by saying that she will not be silenced.

"But let there be no doubt: It is absolutely within my official duties as a federal election official to comment publicly on any aspect of the integrity of federal elections in the United States. I will not be silenced."