Watchdog claims Trump campaign illegally coordinated with a Super PAC in 2016 through its work with Cambridge Analytica

Watchdog claims Trump campaign illegally coordinated with a Super PAC in 2016 through its work with Cambridge Analytica
  • The Trump campaign illegally coordinated with a pro-Trump Super PAC during the 2016 presidential race through its work with Cambridge Analytica, the Campaign Legal Center alleged in a legal document Friday.
  • The watchdog group said newly published emails revealed Cambridge Analytica’s work for the campaign overlapped with its work for Make America Number 1, a pro-Trump group backed by Republican mega-donor Robert Mercer.
  • The CLC originally filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission in 2016, accusing the campaign and Make America Number 1 of “coordinated communications,” which federal law prohibits.
  • But the FEC has effectively been shut down since July because it doesn’t have enough commissioners to legally rule on campaign finance cases, meaning it’s currently unable to weigh in on the case.
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Donald Trump’s presidential campaign illegally coordinated with a pro-Trump Super PAC in 2016 in violation of federal campaign finance law through its work with Cambridge Analytica, watchdog group Campaign Legal Center alleged in a legal complaint to the Federal Elections Commission.

In June 2016, Trump’s campaign hired the notorious and now defunct Cambridge Analytica to help it deliver highly targeted ads using data gathered from millions of adults in the US.

Another one of Cambridge Analytica’s key clients was Make America Number 1, a pro-Trump Super PAC backed by Trump ally and Republican mega-donor Robert Mercer that also went by the name Defeat Crooked Hillary PAC.

In its complaint, CLC claimed that newly “newly published Cambridge Analytica emails and other documents from the 2016 election cycle” provide additional evidence that “there is reason to believe that Make America Number 1 illegally made in-kind contributions to the Trump campaign in the form of coordinated communications.”

“Among other things, the documents underscore how key Trump campaign officials—such as Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway—were involved in Cambridge Analytica’s operations,” CLC said in the complaint, which supplemented its complaint from October 2016 where it originally alleged illegal coordination.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

US election law allows Super PACs to raise unlimited amounts of money, but prohibits them from coordinating directly with political campaigns.

CLC’s complaint cited evidence of Cambridge Analytica employees using a “joint ‘project calendar'” for their work with the Trump campaign and Make America Number 1 and “strikingly consistent” messaging and content in the ads the firm developed for the two clients.

“The idea that this spending was at all independent is farcical and these emails underscore that,” CLC lawyer Brendan Fischer told the Associated Press, who first broke the story. “Cambridge Analytica not only misused people’s personal data, but it was a conduit for the wealthy family that owned it to unlawfully support the Trump campaign in 2016.”

There were multiple apparent connections between the three entities.

Make America Number 1, which was originally formed to support Sen. Ted Cruz, was predominantly funded by Mercer — who also established and financed Cambridge Analytica and was Trump’s top donor in 2016. Conway helmed the PAC when it supported Cruz and eventually jumped ship to Trump’s campaign. Bannon had extensive ties to both Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign, and formerly ran Breitbart News — also funded by the Mercers.

But CLC’s complaint claimed those connections overlapped too much to the point of breaking the law.

“Cambridge Analytica did in fact use or convey to Make America Number 1 information about the Trump campaign’s plans, projects, activities, or needs, and that such information was material to the targeted communications that the super PAC created to help elect Trump,” it claims, adding that its employees “ignored any written firewall policy, with staff assigned to the super PAC publicly expressing knowledge about the candidate’s plans, projects, and activities.”

The FEC is unlikely to take any action on the complaint for now, however. For one, such laws are rarely enforced: a 2012 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that, since 1999, the agency has investigated just three coordination allegations and levied two fines totalling $26,000.

But even if the FEC was inclined to take action, it currently cannot legally do so. In July, the resignation of Republican Commissioner Caroline Hunter left the six-seat commission without the minimum number of commissioners — four — required to rule on issues like the one raised by CLC.

This isn’t the first time the FEC has been short-staffed. The bipartisan body lost its quorum in August 2019 and only regained it in June when the Senate appointed Trey Trainor, a Republican lawyer nominated by President Donald Trump, who promptly became FEC chairman in mid-June before Hunter’s resignation just a few weeks later.

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Donald Trump
make america number 1
Robert Mercer
Steve Bannon

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