Introduction

On December 16, 2016 Campaign for Accountability and Free Speech For People called on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to immediately investigate whether the Russian government, which paid for computer hacks, social media posts, and political advertisements to aid Donald Trump’s campaign, illegally influenced the presidential election. The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) prohibits foreign nationals from spending money to influence American elections. We have since filed two amended complaints to account for new information, on May 4, 2017 and on June 2, 2017. On December 8, 2021, we sued the Federal Election Commission in federal court in Washington, D.C., for its five-year-delay and failure to act on our complaint.

UPDATE: On March 10, 2022, Free Speech For People filed a new lawsuit, which challenges the FEC’s dismissal of the complaint as “contrary to law” under the Federal Election Campaign Act. 

Key Facts

Caption Free Speech For People v. Federal Election Commission
Court U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
Docket No. 22-cv-666-CKK
Status Complaint filed
Plaintiffs Free Speech For People and the Campaign for Accountability
Defendant Federal Election Commission

Background

Our 2016 complaint states: “According to the United States government, the Russian government deliberately attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election in order to assist the candidacy of Donald J. Trump. [The Federal Election Campaign Act] prohibits foreign nationals from spending money to influence federal elections.”

The complaint continues: “Furthermore, according to published reports, there is sufficient basis for the FEC to initiate an investigation as to whether this activity by the Russian government met the legal definition of having ‘coordinated’ with the Trump campaign, whether at the request of the candidate or his committee, or through shared former employees, contractors, or business associates.”

The complaint identifies numerous reports that computer hackers paid by the Russian government engaged in cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee to gain access to DNC emails, including those of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and then released those email messages to help Trump win the election. The complaint further identifies reports that a Russian propaganda effort helped spread a flood of “fake news” designed to support the Trump candidacy. And the complaint cites indications of potential coordination with the Trump campaign, including Trump’s statement on June 27, 2016, publicly calling upon the Russian government to hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

In 2021, five years after the 2016 complaint, the Federal Election Commission had not responded. In response, Free Speech For People and Campaign for Accountability filed a federal lawsuit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. In response to the delay lawsuit, the FEC finally closed its file and released its records in late February 2022. The documents released by the FEC showed that the nonpartisan staff of the FEC’s Office of General Counsel identified reason to believe that both the Trump campaign and the Russian government had violated the Act.

The FEC’s shameful 3-3 deadlock missed an important opportunity to hold the Trump campaign accountable for its illegal coordination with the Russian government, and to deter Trump or other politicians from doing it again. The FEC’s dismissal deprived the plaintiffs and the American public of vital information regarding campaign financing in 2016 and potential use of online platforms to corrupt our democracy–information that was not revealed by the Mueller investigation or other investigations of the 2020 election. The documents reveal that the decision fell squarely along partisan lines, with the three Republican members of the Commission voting against the investigation. The FEC’s nonpartisan career staff in its General Counsel’s office agreed that, in the 2016 election the Trump campaign committed illegal coordination with the Russian government. The 2021 lawsuit over the FEC’s delay was voluntarily dismissed after the FEC released its records.

On March 10, 2022, Free Speech For People filed a new lawsuit, which challenges the FEC’s dismissal of the complaint as “contrary to law” under the Federal Election Campaign Act. 

Read about the 2016 complaint

Read the 2022 Press Release

Major Case Developments

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