On December 22, 2017, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and Anne L. Weismann (collectively, plaintiffs) filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to challenge the Commission’s handling of an administrative complaint they had filed in 2015. The complaint alleged that several respondents had violated the Federal Election Campaign Act’s (the Act) prohibition on making contributions in the name of another.
Background and request for declaratory relief
The plaintiffs’ administrative complaint alleged that the American Conservative Union (ACU) acted as a conduit for a $1.7 million contribution from an unknown source to the political committee Now or Never PAC. The plaintiffs alleged that the Now or Never PAC and its treasurer James C. Thomas, III attributed the contribution to the ACU, rather than to its actual source.
The Commission’s investigation revealed that ACU had received a $1.8 million contribution from Government Integrity, LLC (GI LLC) and on the very same day sent $1.71 million to Now or Never PAC. The Commission’s investigation led the Commission’s Office of General Counsel to conclude that GI LLC was not the true source of these funds. Rather, the Commission’s Office of General Counsel concluded that an unnamed trust (“John Doe Trust”) and its trustee (“John Doe Trustee”) had transferred $2.5 million to GI LLC. The Commission found reason to believe that GI LLC, ACU, James C. Thomas, III, Now or Never PAC, and James C. Thomas, III in his capacity as PAC treasurer had violated the Act’s prohibition on contributions in the name of another. The Commission entered into a conciliation agreement with ACU, GI LLC, Mr. Thomas, and Now or Never PAC and Mr. Thomas in his official capacity as treasurer, which resulted in the Commission assessing $350,000 in civil penalties.
The Commission declined to find reason to believe that John Doe Trust and John Doe Trustee had made or assisted in making contributions in the name of another and voted to close the file.
The plaintiffs’ lawsuit alleges that the Commission’s failure to find reason to believe with respect to John Doe Trust and John Doe Trustee was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.