A pro-Trump super PAC made illegal contributions to the president's reelection campaign, a watchdog group says
- The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center accused super PAC Our American Century spent illegally large sums of money to redistribute Trump campaign political advertisements.
- Most of Our American Century's more than $7 million in income during 2020 came from one man — money manager Frederic Eshelman.
- Eshelman recently sued a separate political group for $2.5 million, alleging it had misused his contribution while attempting to identify instances of Election 2020 voter fraud.
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A super PAC supporting President Donald Trump made "illegal, unreported, and excessive" in-kind contributions to his reelection campaign, a nonpartisan election watchdog group said today in a federal complaint obtained by Insider.
The Campaign Legal Center accused Our American Century of spending up to $251,000 to redistribute an existing Trump campaign video while failing to reveal the super PAC — not the Trump campaign — bankrolled the ad blitz.
The Our American Century-funded ad campaign, which ran during October on Google-owned YouTube, targeted voters in Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, according to political ad data Google publicly discloses.
The ads criticized President-elect Joe Biden's record on energy and concluded with the disclaimer: "Paid for by Donald J. Trump for President Inc."
"This is an incredibly straightforward violation of the law," said Brendan Fischer, the Campaign Legal Center's director of federal reform who filed the complaint with the Federal Election Commission. "It's also a law the FEC has a history of enforcing."
Our American Century treasurer Cabell Hobbs could not immediately be reached for comment. A representative for the Trump campaign, which is not accused in the complaint of wrongdoing, also could not be reached.
The Campaign Legal Center identified Our American Century's ad spending through Google's voluntary political ad disclosure database.
But for that database, "these very egregious violations wouldn't likely have been discovered," Fischer said.
Our American Century spent more than $7.1 million overall during 2020, much of it on media consulting services, according to FEC disclosures.
If a political committee hires a media contractor to place its campaign ads on media platforms, federal law only requires the committee to publicly disclose its payment to the contractor — not the media outlet that ultimately hosts or broadcasts the campaign ads.
While Facebook and Google, among other media companies, voluntarily disclose financial data of political committees that do business with them, other services — including some streaming services — do not.
FEC penalties possible
The Campaign Legal Center filed its civil complaint with the Federal Election Commission, which this week regained its powers to enforce and regulate campaign money laws after lacking enough commissioners to do so for 14 of the past 15 months.
The de facto shutdown of high-level FEC business occurred in the midst of a historically expensive 2020 election, which the Center for Responsive Politics estimated cost $14 billion at the federal level — obliterating past spending marks.
The US Senate earlier this month voted to confirm three new commissioners — Republicans Allen Dickerson and Sean Cooksey and Democrat Shana Broussard — to the six-member commission.
The FEC, however, isn't likely to rule on the Campaign Legal Center's complaint for months or even years, especially since it has a backlog of about 400 other enforcement cases.
Our American Century could face a fine if the FEC rules that it violated federal election law.
Our American Century got most of its money from one man: conservative megadonor Fred Eshelman, a money manager from North Carolina who gave $7 million from September through October, according to federal records.
Eshelman made headlines last month when he sued another pro-Trump organization, Texas-based True the Vote Inc., in an effort to recoup more than $2.5 million in "conditional gifts" he gave the group in recent months.
True the Vote, Eshelman said, promised but failed to use "sophisticated data modeling and statistical analysis to identify potential illegal or fraudulent balloting," according to court filings.
Eshelman's attorneys said True the Vote instead delivered Eshelman "vague responses, platitudes, and empty promises of follow-up that never occurred."
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