Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has sued the Federal Election Commission for failing to take action against Freedom Vote, an Ohio-based dark money group that has repeatedly violated campaign finance laws.
Freedom Vote is registered as a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, which does not have to disclose its donors but cannot have its primary purpose be politics. The group, however, spent the majority of its budget on political activity, meaning it should be registered with the FEC as a political committee. Political committees must disclose their donors to the public.
CREW filed a complaint against Freedom Vote in 2018, prompting an FEC investigation that not only confirmed CREW’s allegations, but demonstrated Freedom Vote spent even more on elections than previously known. The vast majority of Freedom Vote’s spending since 2014 was to influence federal elections through campaign ads, donations to super PACs, and opposition polling. Its executive director could not recall any non-election focused actions by the organization. The FEC’s investigation also confirmed that Freedom Vote fundraised with the intention to influence elections of candidates like former House Speaker John Boener (R-OH), and explicitly received contributions to help Senator Rob Portman (R-OH). Despite substantial evidence of Freedom Vote’s political activities, the FEC took no action against the group and dismissed CREW’s complaint.
“The FEC’s failure to act, despite conclusive evidence that Freedom Vote broke the law, denies voters their legal right to know who gave the money behind Freedom Vote’s political activities,” said CREW President Noah Bookbinder. “This is a signal to dark money groups and the people who run them that they can get away with violating the law, leaving voters in the dark.”
Federal law requires groups that devote a majority of their spending in a year to influence federal elections, and that spend or receive $1,000 or more to do so, to report every donor who gave at least $200 in the past year to the group. A recent court victory by CREW confirmed that all types of campaign spending can qualify a group as a political committee, including spending on explicit campaign ads and donations to super PACs.
“Campaign finance laws are meant to ensure transparency in elections so that voters can make an informed decision based on all the facts,” said Bookbinder. “It’s time we put an end to dark money groups that so obviously break the law.”