A non-partisan campaign watchdog is accusing a pro-Donald Trump super political action committee (PAC) of illegally paying to distribute an advertisement video produced by the Trump campaign across several critical swing states in violation of federal campaign contribution laws.
In a complaint filed on Friday with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) claimed that super PAC “Our American Century” spent between $5,100 and $251,000 to distribute a Trump campaign ad “in its entirety” to voters in Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. The ad even kept the original “paid for by the Trump Campaign” disclaimer when it aired.
According to the complaint, when the super PAC paid to republish a Trump campaign advertisement, the expenditure constituted an “in-kind” contribution to the campaign that exceeded federal limitation and subsequently failed to report the expenditure. Both allegations, if true, would be violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act.
“Such ‘republication’ is a clear violation. Just as it is illegal for the super PAC to give Trump $50K that his campaign could use to run ads, it is illegal for the super PAC to spend $50K running Trump’s ads,” CLC Federal Reform Program Director Brendan Fischer wrote, adding that, “The FEC has a history of enforcing this law.”
CLC was able to uncover the super PAC’s spending by scanning Google’s archive of political ads, which it said only revealed a fraction of the total money paid out by Our American Century, noting that “the total amount in violation could be far higher.”
“Of the $5.5 million that Our American Century spent on digital independent expenditures in 2020, only $259,800 appeared in the Google archive, and a smaller amount was spent on Facebook; the super PAC’s digital advertisements run on other platforms are not publicly available,” the complaint stated.
Fischer also emphasized that better structures must be put in place to prevent future illegal expenditures from remaining undetected.
“This illustrates the value of transparency for digital ads: absent Google’s ad archive, we likely found never have identified the super PAC’s illegal spending, since the digital ads would have largely been secret but this case also illustrates the limitations of voluntary platform-by-platform measures. Of the $5.5M that the super PAC spent on digital ads, only $260K appeared in the Google archive and Google’s transparency rules only apply to Google,” he said. “Our American Century ads run on less-transparent platforms are not publicly available, so is not known whether any portion of the millions spent on those platforms may also have violated the law. This is yet another example of the limitations of voluntary platform-by-platform measures, and demonstrates the need for broader across-the-board digital ad transparency legislation.”
CLC asked the FEC to conduct an investigation into Our American Century and seek sanctions and civil penalties to deter future violations. The group also requested an injunction against the super PAC prohibiting future contributions of a similar nature.
Read the full complaint below:
[image via NBC screengrab]
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