CONTACT: Jordan Libowitz
202-408-5565 | [email protected]
Washington — A federal court should force the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to do its job and take action against an Ohio-based dark money group that has repeatedly violated campaign finance laws, according to a lawsuit filed today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
For the majority of its existence, Freedom Vote has functioned as a political committee–the sort of group that is so extensively involved in elections that it must register with the FEC and report its donors–but it has failed to make the legally required disclosures. A year ago, CREW filed a complaint with the FEC alleging that Freedom Vote’s political expenditures made up nearly 80% of the group’s spending. One of the most significant undisclosed expenditures was more than $1 million spent on political advertisements in the 2016 Ohio Senate election. Additionally, Freedom Vote contributed $1.7 million to an Ohio super PAC, and spent more than $40,000 on other electoral activities in 2015-16, establishing that its major purpose is influencing elections. Nevertheless, Freedom Vote failed to comply with its legal obligations. The FEC has not acted on CREW’s complaint and required Freedom Vote to formally register as a political committee, requiring it to disclose its donors.
“Campaign finance laws are meant to ensure transparency in elections so that voters can make a decision based on all the facts, including who sponsors campaign ads” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “By allowing Freedom Vote to both funnel millions to political activities and not disclose its donors in violation of the law, the FEC leaves Ohio voters in the dark.”
Freedom Vote’s ads ran in opposition to former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, then a candidate for the US Senate in the 2016 election cycle. After criticizing him for his “job-killing policies” and for losing 350,000 jobs while he was in office, the ad said “now Ted Strickland wants to bring his job-killing policies to Washington” while showing an image of the U.S. Capitol building, clearly a message advocating Strickland’s electoral defeat. The super PAC that received Freedom Vote’s contributions ran similar ads attacking Strickland’s candidacy.
“When the FEC ignores violations as egregious as Freedom Vote’s, it signals to other dark money groups that they can get away with the same behavior,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “We’re taking the FEC to court to force them to acknowledge these violations and protect voters’ rights.”