The Federal Election Commission decided not to take action on a complaint alleging that the Trump campaign laundered hundreds of millions of dollars after commissioners deadlocked down party lines.
The FEC, which requires a majority of its six-member panel to back any action, has not released the reasons it declined to pursue the complaint but said it was "equally divided" on several legal questions it considered in a letter to the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), which filed the complaint, according to Insider.
FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat and the longest-tenured member of the panel, told the outlet that she voted to find reason to believe the Trump campaign and its associates violated federal law.
"Disclosure is the core mission of the FEC, and it's important for an informed electorate to know where the money is coming from and where the money is going," Weintraub said, adding that she was "disappointed that we did not have the votes to go forward."
Weintraub also expressed concern that the decision will "look to the public like the commission is making decisions on a partisan basis."
The FEC, which has three Republican members and three Democrats, has been ineffective for years because of partisan deadlock. Republican commissioners have repeatedly blocked action on campaign finance complaints, though the FEC issued a fine to the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democrats in March. The commission fined Clinton's campaign $8,000 and the Democratic National Committee $105,000 for obscuring their funding for the infamous "Steele dossier."
The CLC, a nonpartisan watchdog group, accused the Trump campaign of a much larger scheme to hide its spending. The group filed a complaint alleging that the Trump campaign funneled hundreds of millions in donor cash through American Made Media Consultants (AMMC), a shell company that Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner helped create, and Parscale Strategy, which is run by former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, to hide payments to sub-vendors. The Trump campaign funneled about $617 million in campaign spending through AMMC, making it virtually impossible for the public to know how the money was spent.
The complaint notes that Parscale Strategy was run by one of Trump's top aides and AMMC's board included family members of Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence.
"The Trump campaign laundered well over half a BILLION dollars through a shell company tied to Jared Kushner and Brad Parscale's PR firm, but the Republicans on the FEC don't think you have the right to know who truly benefited from those funds," Robert Maguire, research director at the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said on Twitter.
"Why in the world does the FEC even require groups to file their expenditure details if someone can just pay hundreds of millions of dollars to one or two vendors—tied to the son-in-law and former campaign chief—and then have those vendors actually dole out the funds in secret?" Maguire questioned.
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The CLC filed its initial complaint back in July 2020 and in March sued the FEC in federal court, accusing it of slow-walking the complaint.
"The FEC is responsible for protecting voters' right to know how politicians are raising and spending money, but the FEC has abdicated its responsibilities for years — particularly when it comes to enforcing the law against the Trump campaign — so the FEC's deadlock over the campaign's massive concealment scheme is shameful but not surprising," Adav Noti, the CLC's legal director, told Insider.
An FEC action in the case could have resulted in severe penalties for the Trump campaign. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., estimated that the penalties could be in the hundreds of millions.
"If Mr. Kushner's American Made Media Consultants did in fact spend $617 million as reported, he and his associates — which include additional Trump family members as well as the Vice President's nephew — could face penalties amounting to more than one billion dollars," Pocan wrote in a letter to the Justice Department and the FEC in December 2020.
Reps. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., both of whom are former federal prosecutors, also called on the FBI to investigate the scheme, noting that violations of the campaign finance law over $25,000 are felonies punishable by up to five years in prison.
"As former prosecutors, we know that this behavior, if true, violates multiple laws," the lawmakers wrote, pressing the FBI for an investigation into whether "Kushner and members of the Trump family have violated federal campaign funding or other statutes."