A watchdog group has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) after its commissioners dismissed a complaint alleging illegal coordination between Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and a Super PAC run by Media Matters founder and Clinton ally David Brock.
The Campaign Legal Center (CLC), a D.C.-based government ethics group, brought the litigation forward following a 2-2 vote by FEC commissioners where Republicans voted to clear Clinton's campaign and Correct the Record, the Brock PAC, of wrongdoing while Democrats voted to punish the entities for their activities.
"In the 2016 elections, the Super PAC Correct The Record—notorious for its plans to ‘push back against' Hillary Clinton's critics online—declared that it would coordinate its activities with the Hillary Clinton's campaign, Hillary For America," the center writes. "CTR's founder and chair, David Brock, even publicly stated that CTR was ‘basically under the thumb' of the campaign."
CLC notes that individuals, at the time, could only contribute a maximum of $2,700 to Clinton's general election campaign in 2016. Correct the Record, on the other hand, could collect unlimited amounts from individuals and entities as an "independent" Super PAC as long as there was no coordination with the campaign.
"If CTR's spending was coordinated, the law would treat that spending as a contribution, since it would no longer be independent and would have had substantial value to the Clinton campaign," CLC writes. "Despite spending over $9 million on opposition research, campaign spokesperson training and booking, video production, press outreach, and other activities—many of which, by CTR's own admission, were conducted in coordination with the Clinton campaign—yet the Clinton campaign never reported receiving in-kind contributions from CTR, and CTR never reported the activities as contributions."
The center initially filed the complaint to the FEC against the Clinton campaign and Brock's PAC two weeks prior to the 2016 elections alleging the campaign effectively received millions in illegal contributions via coordinated expenditures.
Attorneys at the FEC said that the scheme likely violated federal law and recommended the commission take up the matter. In early June, the two Republicans on the commission blocked enforcement actions. Two of the FEC's six seats are currently vacant.
"If this is the rule now, if a campaign can coordinate with a Super PAC on everything except broadcast television ads, then there could be a lot more coordination we don't know about," Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at CLC, told the Center for Responsive Politics at the time of the vote. "Most campaigns won't come out and say they are coordinating with a Super PAC to win an election."
"It's yet another example of the partisan split on the commission not being partisan in the traditional sense," Fischer said. "Here it was Democratic commissioners voting to enforce campaign finance laws against a Democratic candidate and Republican commissioners doing the opposite."
The Campaign Legal Center, which says the current decision creates a new campaign finance loophole, is now asking a judge to order the commission to hold the campaign and Super PAC accountable for the alleged illegal activities. The group also previously targeted President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and a Super PAC over alleged violations.
The watchdog is seeking a "judicial declaration that the dismissal of their administrative complaint was arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law" and also seeks "an order requiring the FEC to conform with such declaration within 30 days," according to the complaint filed to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
Correct the Record became inactive following the 2016 election cycle. Media Matters for America, Brock's group, did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit by press time.