Trump campaign ‘disguised’ and ‘laundered’ nearly $170 million worth of spending, watchdog group alleges in a new federal complaint


JULY 28, 2020

  • The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center says the Trump campaign is violating federal election transparency rules by masking the true sources of campaign expenditures.
  • The Trump campaign says it ‘complies with all campaign finance laws’ and Federal Election Commission regulations.
  • Trump has previously declared himself ‘the most transparent president, probably, in the history of this country.’
  • Don’t expect a quick ruling: The complaint is filed with the FEC, which does not have enough commissioners to enforce federal campaign finance laws.

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has “disguised” nearly $170 million of campaign spending by “laundering” the funds through companies led by former campaign manager Brad Parscale or created by Trump campaign lawyers, according to a new complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

The 82-page complaint, filed Tuesday by the Campaign Legal Center, contends the Trump campaign’s spending practices have the practical effect of masking payments — in violation of federal campaign transparency rules — to various advertising contractors and senior Trump campaign staff and family members, including Lara Trump, wife of son Eric Trump, and Kimberly Guilfoyle, girlfriend of son Donald Trump Jr.

“Voters have a clear right under the law to know how campaigns are spending money to influence elections,” said Trevor Potter, the Campaign Legal Center’s president and a former Republican chairman of the FEC. “Without this information, they certainly should be asking, ‘what is the Trump campaign hiding?'”

Much of the Campaign Legal Center’s complaint focuses on American Made Media Consultants, a Delaware-based company formed in 2018 and supported by the Trump campaign to specifically coordinate its massive ad buying program.

Having an in-house ad buying company helps the campaign save money on commissions it might otherwise pay. But it also helps the campaign shield the identities of subcontractors that American Made Media Consultants uses.

“AMMC does not earn any commissions or fees. It builds efficiencies and saves the campaign money by providing these in-house services that otherwise would be done by outside vendors,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told Insider. “The campaign reports all payments to AMMC as required by the FEC. The campaign complies with all campaign finance laws and FEC regulations.”

Trump last year declared himself “the most transparent president, probably, in the history of this country,” and his campaign has earned plaudits for the effectiveness of its digital ad strategy.

Parscale told the Washington Examiner in 2018 that America Made Media Consultants creation was an effort “to make sure that I am running the most transparent campaign possible.”

But Trump himself chafed for months at the fees Parscale was charging the campaign, ultimately demoting Parscale as campaign manager two weeks ago and installing Bill Stepien.

Trump campaign chief operating officer Jeff DeWit has been conducting an internal audit of campaign spending under Parscale. DeWit told Insider it was not targeting anyone in particular, but other Republicans close to the campaign said it was examining Parscale’s handling of the money.

Guilfoyle’s oversight of the Trump campaign’s financial operations has come under scrutiny of late, with POLITICO reporting the Trump fundraising team has struggled with departures, inexperienced staff and “accusations of irresponsible spending.” Guilfoyle has temporarily left the campaign trail as she recovers from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Kimberly Guilfoyle at a Trump Campaign. – Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Federal Election Commission on ice

Expect no quick resolution to the Campaign Legal Center’s complaint, which names both the Trump campaign and Trump Make America Great Again Committee — a joint fundraising operation involving the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee.

The six-seat, bipartisan FEC has been crippled for most of the past year, lacking a requisite minimum of four commissioners — it has three — to conduct high-level business. That includes the civil enforcement federal campaign finance laws, adoption of new rules and dispensement of official legal interpretations to candidates and other political actors.

The Senate has yet to schedule a confirmation hearing for conservative election law attorney Allen Dickerson, who Trump nominated last month to the FEC.

Even if the Senate confirmed Dickerson quickly, there’s almost no chance the FEC will rule on the Campaign Legal Center’s complaint before Election Day on Nov. 3.

During times when the FEC has enough commissioners, the often ideologically divided body routinely takes three or more years to conclude the most complex and contentious cases before it.

The FEC, for example, levied a fine against President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign in 2013. It took the FEC until 2019 to slap a super PAC and Chinese corporation supporting 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush with a $1 million penalty. Some scofflaw politicos simply ignore the agency — with little consequence.

“That does not mean this illegal activity should be ignored. The law should be vindicated, even if post-election,” Potter told Insider.

If the FEC is unable to act, Potter said his organization would consider pursuing its complaint against the Trump campaign in federal court — something the Campaign Legal Center has already done in unrelated matters.

The group also would consider filing a complaint with the Department of Justice “if evidence develops of a knowing and wilful violation,” Potter said.

Trump submitted federal paperwork to run for reelection on the day of his inauguration, Jan. 20, 2017. Since then, Trump’s campaign has raised and spent money without pause — no sitting president has ever actively sought a second term so early.

Courtesy/Source: Business Insider