On April 24, 2024, the FEC fined a Trump-backing committee for the first time, following a referral from the FEC’s Reports Analysis Division. Make America Great Again, Again! Inc. and its treasurer Charles Gantt agreed to pay a $6,075 penalty for failing to disclose all of the group’s financial activity in its April 2022 quarterly report, which was then amended to disclose over $150,000 in previously unreported received contributions. All six of the FEC’s commissioners, including the three Republicans, voted to approve the agreement.

However, the streak of voting against every outside complaint brought against Trump or a Trump committee continues for the FEC’s three Republican commissioners.

As of December 2023, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has received 59 allegations that Donald Trump or his committees violated the Federal Election Campaign Act. In 29 of those cases, nonpartisan staff in the FEC’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) recommended the FEC investigate Trump. Yet not once has a Republican FEC commissioner voted to approve any such investigation or enforcement of the law against Trump.

Democratic Vice Chair Ellen Weintraub pointed this out in her December 5, 2023 statement of reasons after the FEC once again failed to garner the votes to enforce the law against Trump after he allegedly violated the law by illegally soliciting or directing money to a pro-Trump super PAC that spent millions on ads opposing Joe Biden in 2020.

Because at least four of the six FEC Commissioners need to approve any FEC investigation, and because only three of those seats can be filled by Democrats, Republicans hold a veto over the agency’s enforcement and have repeatedly used it to shoot down any recommended enforcement of campaign finance law against Trump—and thus successfully shielded him from accountability over and over. Instead of fostering bipartisanship, the split FEC has often become gridlocked and, in cases involving Trump, its ability to pursue action is constrained by the members of one party.

The FEC’s enabling statute, the Federal Election Campaign Act, specifically subjects the Commission’s non-enforcement to review to prevent it from blocking meritorious enforcement. In June 2018, however, two Republican-appointed judges of the D.C. Circuit—including now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh—largely gutted that rule, giving commissioners the authority to block enforcement of the law without judicial review if the commissioners claimed that they did so as an exercise of prosecutorial discretion or under Heckler v. Chaney.

So, in 21 of the 29 cases where the FEC received recommendations to enforce the law against Trump, Republican commissioners justified non-enforcement by invoking prudential or discretionary factors in attempts to circumvent review.

When dismissing the recommendations to investigate Trump—and to kill further inquiries into his actions—the Republican commissioners have at times claimed that the FEC should not take any action because “proceeding further would not be an appropriate use of Commission resources” or that the resources would be “best spent elsewhere.” Trump has even falsely declared that the FEC “dropped” one of its investigations into him “because they found no evidence of problems.” As Commissioner Weintraub wrote in a statement of reasons in November 2023, “the data is clear: At the FEC, Mr. Trump is in a category by himself.”

Unless courts restore their check on partisan vetoes on enforcement, the commissioners will continue to fail to enforce federal campaign finance law against the powerful figures they are trying to protect.


Alyssa Meiman contributed to this report.

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