On September 20, 2023, the court rejected the FEC’s and AAN’s motions to dismiss, but stayed the case pending the result of an appeal in CREW’s citizen suit brought directly against AAN.
CREW is suing the Federal Election Commission over its decade-long failure to enforce the law against the American Action Network (AAN), one of the largest dark money groups in existence.
This is the third time CREW has sued the FEC over its failure to pursue allegations that AAN’s extensive spending on express advocacy campaign ads and electioneering communications (also known as sham issue ads) requires AAN to publicly disclose its donors. That would open up over a hundred million dollars in dark money spending to public scrutiny.
CREW previously twice sued the FEC after it deadlocked, three-to-three, over proceeding to investigate CREW’s allegations. In adjudicating those suits, the courts found that the FEC’s refusal to enforce the law against AAN “blinked reality” and questioned the sincerity of the FEC commissioners who denied AAN’s political purposes. As a result of CREW’s second victory, CREW brought suit directly against AAN, as permitted by federal law.
CREW is bringing a new lawsuit after the FEC dismissed CREW’s complaint once again—this time after the previously blocking commissioners switched their vote to proceed with an investigation but could not obtain the necessary votes because Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, who had previously voted to enforce the law against AAN, voted against FEC enforcement in this case. She explained in a statement that she had voted to block enforcement because her colleagues were now voting to enforce the law in an attempt to interfere with CREW’s suit against AAN—which is currently pending in the DC Circuit.
However, because Commissioner Weintraub voted against enforcement, judicial precedent means that she is now the authoritative source speaking on behalf of the FEC to explain the dismissal. Weintraub’s opinion, now the official position of the FEC, is that the FEC’s dismissal was unlawful and that AAN must disclose its donors going back to 2009.
Thanks to Commissioner Weintraub, the FEC is now right about the law. Groups that spend extensively to influence federal elections through a wide range of campaign activities need to disclose their donors—and the sources of the hundreds of millions of dollars behind them must be opened up to public scrutiny.