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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.

Go deeper

Consulting firms double-dipping in political candidates rake in more than $1B

Expand chart
Data: Public Citizen; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Consulting firms employed by candidates and party committees are simultaneously raking in huge sums by working on the same races for independent political groups, a new report shows.

Why it matters: The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision allowed limitless campaign spending by groups that don't coordinate with candidates or national parties. For leading political vendors working on high-profile races, that's meant a huge new revenue stream.

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Image: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

2 hours ago - World

Australian PM pledges $700M for climate change-threatened Great Barrier reef

A green sea turtle is flourishing among the corals at Lady Elliot island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Friday a AU$1 billion ($703 million) investment plan for the Great Barrier Reef.

Why it matters: The nine-year plan for projects including water quality improvement, reef conservation and supporting some 64,000 tourism jobs comes months ahead of this year's federal election. It has been criticized by scientists and environmental groups for failing to tackle climate change.