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Federal Election Commission deadlocks, won’t punish Trump

Federal Election Commission deadlocks, won't punish Trump
The Federal Election Commission has decided not to take action against former President Donald Trump after commissioners deadlocked over whether his campaign broke the law by masking how it was spending cash during the 2020 campaign

The Federal Election Commission has decided not to take action against former President Donald Trump after commissioners deadlocked over whether his campaign broke the law by masking how it was spending cash during the 2020 campaign.

In a letter on Monday, the FEC notified the Campaign Legal Center of the outcome. The nonprofit group first brought the complaint against Trump in 2020, alleging his campaign was “laundering” hundreds of millions in spending from mandatory public disclosure by routing payments through companies that were tied to his former campaign manager, Brad Parscale.

The practice has long been considered against the law. But in recent years, the FEC, which is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, has frequently deadlocked on major decisions such at this one.

That has effectively set a series of new precedents that have slowly whittled away at the law governing how money can be used in national politics. Still unclear is what sort of legal rationale was used to justify the decision.

Adav Noti, a former FEC attorney who is now the Campaign Legal Center’s vice president and legal director, said the commission won’t release its legal reasoning for several weeks. He said filing an appeal would hinge on more details.

“It depends on what’s in the case file,” Noti said. “All we have is notification of the deadlock.”

In a similar case in March, the FEC found probable cause that Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee had violated campaign law by misreporting spending on research that eventually became the infamous Steele dossier.

In that case, the Clinton campaign and DNC agreed to pay $113,000 to settle without conceding they violated the law in order to avoid further legal costs.

During the 2020 campaign, most of the payments by Trump’s campaign committees were made to American Made Media Consultants, which has received at least $780 million between 2018 and 2021, according to FEC records. The other firm, Parscale Strategy, collected at least $32 million during that period, the records show.

The campaign said that American Made Media Consultants was formed to purchase advertising directly — and save money by not relying on a go-between. But the company instead acted as a clearinghouse for spending while still using third-party vendors, which it was ostensibly created to avoid, the complaint states.

In at least two cases, outside firms owned by Trump’s digital director Gary Coby appeared to have been the firm tapped to make purchases or develop digital communication products, though there is no record of payments made to Coby in Trump’s campaign finance disclosures, according to the complaint.

Meanwhile, Parscale Strategy was used to pay the salaries of some Trump reelection officials, including Lara Trump, the wife of Trump’s son Eric, and Kimberly Guilfoyle, the fiancee of Trump’s eldest son, Don Jr., the complaint stated.