Oct 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Pro-Trump PAC fined over foreign money offer

U.S. President Donald Trump waves before boarding Marine One in Washington, D.C.
Trump, 2017. Photo: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A pro-Trump political group has agreed to pay $25,000 to settle allegations it illegally solicited $2 million from reporters posing as intermediaries for a Chinese national.

Why it matters: A key player in the scheme, a veteran Republican operative, is facing criminal charges over allegedly funneling tens of thousands of dollars in foreign cash to Trump's re-election effort, making news of the fine the latest in an emerging pattern of conduct.

What's new: Great America PAC, a hybrid super PAC, reached an agreement with the Federal Election Commission to resolve the more recent allegations in June, according to a copy of the conciliation agreement released this week.

  • The $25,000 civil penalty stemmed from an undercover investigation by the British Telegraph newspaper in late 2016.
  • Reporters approached the PAC's principal, Eric Beach, posing as representatives for a Chinese national who wanted to donate to Great America.
  • Beach worked with GOP operative Jesse Benton to devise ways to conceal the source of the funds, including funneling the money through a "dark money" nonprofit or through Benton's consulting firm.

Great America PAC was one of the largest pro-Trump independent expenditure groups in the country.

Between the lines: Benton, a former senior aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is also facing criminal charges over his alleged role in a scheme to funnel money from a Russian national to a Trump fundraising committee last year.

What they're saying: "Benton’s conduct was dishonorable, unpatriotic, and clearly illegal," three of the FEC's six commissioners wrote in a joint statement on the Great America PAC settlement.

  • The commission nonetheless deadlocked on whether to find probable cause of a violation by Benton individually.
  • "It is unfortunate, to put it mildly, that the Commission failed to follow through and hold Benton accountable for his actions," the three commissioners wrote.
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