CONTACT: Jordan Libowitz
202-408-5565 | [email protected]
Washington—The American Conservative Union (ACU) and two other groups agreed to pay the Federal Election Commission (FEC) a $350,000 fine resulting from a 2015 complaint filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). The fine is the largest post-Citizens United penalty imposed by the FEC in a matter based on a complaint by an outside group.
The FEC found probable cause to believe that ACU, best known for organizing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), served as a conduit to illegally pass a $1.71 million contribution from Government Integrity, LLC to a super PAC called the Now or Never PAC. In an email cited in the conciliation agreement, ACU admitted to getting paid $90,000 for its role as a conduit.
It is illegal to make or receive a contribution in someone else’s name or to knowingly let your name be used for one. This scheme is a prime example of “dead end disclosure” – the practice of political groups hiding the true source of their funding by funneling contributions through dark money nonprofits that do not disclose their donors. While one of the most blatant examples, it is just a small part of a growing dead end disclosure problem that denies voters information about the source of money behind campaign ads.
“This is one of the clearest cases we’ve seen of laundering money through a dark money nonprofit to conceal the source of a political contribution,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “Given the egregious facts, even the often dysfunctional FEC had no choice but to act.”
Last year, another CREW complaint set the previous post-Citizens United record with a $233,000 fine in case involving three Koch network-funded groups illegally hiding the source of the funding for their political ads. The new fine accounts for more than half of the total penalties resulting from third party monitor complaints this year. Since last year, CREW’s complaints are responsible for about 60 percent of all FEC fines arising from complaints by outside groups.
“We’re proud that CREW’s cases have resulted in significant accountability, but even these major fines pale in comparison to the amount and size of the campaign finance abuses in recent elections,” Bookbinder said. “The FEC needs to be much more consistent and aggressive to be the enforcement agency America needs.”