Steve Bannon reported to the FBI for allegedly violating campaign finance laws

Donald Trump's senior White House adviser may have been paid illegally during the campaign with super PAC funds

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published November 16, 2016 5:36PM (EST)

Stephen Bannon; Donald Trump   (AP/Gerald Herbert/Reuters/Carlo Allegri/Photo montage by Salon)
Stephen Bannon; Donald Trump (AP/Gerald Herbert/Reuters/Carlo Allegri/Photo montage by Salon)

A campaign finance watchdog group has filed a complaint alleging that a pro-Trump super PAC improperly funneled payments to Steve Bannon, Trump's campaign CEO and now his chief strategist, in violation of the law.

The Democratic Coalition Against Trump, a liberal grassroots organization, has filed a complaint with the FBI alleging that Bannon illegally coordinated Super PAC activities with the Trump campaign, and received payments from the Super PAC after Bannon became an official part of Trump's campaign this August.

Bannon joined the Trump campaign following the resignation of former campaign head Paul Manafort.

In short, a hidden donor allegedly paid a shell company for “services” to mask hidden payments to the Trump campaign or his staff.

The case centers around Make America Number 1 — a pro-Ted Cruz super PAC that was repurposed after its primary backers, hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer — which decided to back Trump. The super PAC's former president, Kellyanne Conway, then went on to work as Trump's campaign manager. Furthermore, Breitbart, which was run by Bannon before he became Trump's campaign chairman, is at least partially owned by the Mercers.

“[T]he Mercers recommended Trump hire Bannon, were in a position to know that the Trump campaign was not paying Bannon,” an October complaint from the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan campaign finance watchdog, alleged. The group said the Mercers broke federal campaign laws by paying Bannon for his work through their super PAC so that the campaign wouldn’t have to shoulder the cost.

In a statement Tuesday, The Democratic Coalition Against Trump explained why they reported Bannon to the FBI, which enforces the Federal Election Campaign Act:

According to FEC records, $950,090 was paid to Bannon’s company, Glittering Steel LLC, over the course of the campaign by pro-Trump super PAC, Make America Number 1. The super PAC is mainly backed by Robert and Rebekah Mercer, and Rebekah was recently named to Trump’s transition team. The most recent payment made to Glittering Steel LLC was on November 5, 2016, and a full list of the expenditures made by the PAC to Bannon’s company can be found here. Before Bannon became Trump campaign CEO in August of this year, Glittering Steel LLC was reported to the FEC at Breitbart’s address in Beverly Hills, CA. Right after Bannon became CEO, however, Glittering Steel LLC was exclusively reported to the FEC at an address in Arlington, VA.

It is against campaign finance law for super PACs to directly coordinate with the campaigns they support, so Bannon’s role as both an employee of the super PAC and campaign CEO would have broken the law.

The Democratic Coalition provided the FBI with a full list of all payments made.

Bannon’s production company Glittering Steel LLC received $187,500 in five checks from the Mercers' PAC between Oct. 1 and Nov. 5, according to a recent FEC filing. Both Bannon and Rebekah Mercer were the producers behind the propaganda film based on a book by Peter Schweizer, "Clinton Cash," released by Glitter Steel.

The Democratic Coalition’s complaint continues:

Additionally, there is a 120-day “cooling off” period for when Super PAC employees leave to work on the campaign their PAC was supporting to avoid any potential coordination. Steve Bannon was paid by Make America Number 1 on Aug. 8, 2016, and then became Trump campaign CEO on August 17, 2016, directly violating the 120-day cooling off period. Additionally, Bannon was paid by the PAC after he became campaign CEO, which likely means there was coordination.

If these allegations are proven against Bannon, it could mean that he flagrantly violated federal campaign finance law. It is a felony for a super PAC to coordinate operations with a campaign. This is the oldest and most transparent scam in the campaign violation tool chest.

“This is yet another example of the corruption that took place over the course of the Trump campaign. Except now, Steve Bannon has a spot as a senior advisor to the White House. I can only hope that the FBI will investigate this incident without being clouded by Bannon’s new position,” Scott Dworkin, Senior Advisor to the coalition, told Huffington Post.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Campaign Finance Donald Trump Election 2016 Elections 2016 Rebekah Mercer Stephen K. Bannon Super Pacs