Aug 27, 2021 - Politics & Policy

"Perfect storm" blocks Trump-era FEC probes

Former President Trump is seen entering Trump Tower in New York City.

Former President Trump arrived at Trump Tower last Sunday. Photo: James Devaney/GC Images

A "perfect storm" of procedural blockades prevented the investigation and sanctioning of alleged Trump campaign election law violations, regulators said this week.

Why it matters: Legitimate cases are being dismissed. And critics say the Federal Election Commission's inability to crack down on many bad actors has undercut the threat of enforcement, and turned campaign financing into the Wild West.

What's new: The FEC is clearing out a backlog of Trump-related cases. One of them, officially tossed last month, shows how the nation's top political money regulator has been hobbled.

  • The case stemmed from a December 2015 complaint lodged by a pro-Jeb Bush super PAC.
  • It alleged that a pair of Trump Organization employees, Michael Cohen and Alan Garten, had illegally used corporate resources to support Trump's presidential campaign.
  • "The record supports these allegations," declared two of the FEC's Democratic commissioners in a statement on Wednesday.

Both of those commissioners, and their four colleagues, nonetheless voted to close out the case.

  • It wasn't for lack of evidence. Separate criminal investigations, including Robert Mueller's election-meddling probe, provided ample evidence that Trump effectively took illegal corporate contributions by enlisting Cohen and Garten in his presidential campaign.
  • But the FEC had to wait for those separate investigations to end before taking its own enforcement action.
  • When that finally concluded, the FEC had just three commissioners — one short of the quorum necessary to take any enforcement action.
  • By the time a quorum was restored and the FEC actually took up the case, the five-year statute of limitations had run out.

What they're saying: "The commission found itself in the middle of a perfect storm of unique and unfortunate circumstances that prevented it from moving forward in this case," the two Democrats, FEC chair Shana Broussard and commissioner Ellen Weintraub, wrote this week.

  • "[A]t the time the commission was finally able to consider and vote on this matter, we were ultimately left with no meaningful enforcement options."
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