Today, our Legal Director, Ron Fein, penned an op-ed in Newsweek with Julian Schreibman, a New York attorney, served at the Central Intelligence Agency. Fein and Schreibman say “follow the money” if you’re asking if the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
“Right now, we’re in the middle of a political hurricane. And it may be up to the usually obscure Federal Election Commission to see us safely through.”
That “storm” demands “an immediate investigation” —and our latest FEC complaint urges the FEC to investigate whether the Russian government illegally spent money to influence the 2016 presidential election, in possible coordination with the Trump campaign.
That’s where the Federal Election Commission comes in. Created by Congress in 1975, the FEC is an independent commission charged with investigating and enforcing violations of our nation’s campaign finance laws. It has broad investigative powers, including the ability to subpoena witnesses and documents and to compel testimony.
Notably, it is both bipartisan (by law, no more than three of its six members may be from the same political party) and independent (its members do not report to the President nor Congressional leaders).
Federal campaign finance law prohibits a “foreign national” (such as the Russian government) from spending money to influence U.S. elections. And it also provides that if a political campaign “coordinates” with anyone outside the campaign who is spending money to influence the election, then the campaign would have to treat the outside money as in-kind contributions (which, from a foreign government, are illegal), and report them on federal disclosure forms.
In this case, it would violate at least three different campaign finance laws if Trump campaign advisors coordinated with the Russian government.
The issue for the FEC is not whether Trump’s campaign made promises in exchange for Russian assistance, nor whether Russian activity swayed the election. The questions for the FEC are much narrower:
(1) Were Russian-funded campaign communications made at the request or suggestion of the campaign, or (2) did campaign advisors fail to observe a strict 120-day waiting period between working for the Trump campaign and the Russian government?
Either would constitute “ coordination ” of campaign communications under campaign finance law.
As Fein and Schreibman sum up, “if the FEC can rise to the challenge, this could be its finest hour. For what may be the most explosive investigation in American history, the FEC may not be the bipartisan investigative body that America deserves. But it may be the one we need right now.”