The Campaign Legal Center and Common Cause have filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, accusing Donald Trump of filing false campaign statements to deliberately dodge funding limits.
The nonprofit groups filed the complaint on Thursday against the president and his campaign, alleging that Trump began raising funds for his 2020 re-election bid days after he won the presidency and collected some $10.5 million by the end of 2016. Instead of characterizing the new money as contributions for the next election, Trump labeled the donations “debt retirement” funds for the last campaign — even though it had no debt, the groups allege. The campaign actually had a $7 million surplus, the complaint says, yet it continued to solicit donations to pay off debt.
A false report could illegally increase the amount Trump could accept from contributors because it would allow donors to contribute both phony “debt retirement” funds for the last campaign on top of legal donations for the 2020 campaign, according to the complaint.
Dozens of individual donors have already given $2,700, the maximum allowed by law, the complaint states. Calling that money debt retirement for 2016 would mean they could donate the maximum again as a campaign contribution.
The Trump campaign reported nearly $760,000 in debt in its first post-election FEC filing — but it had more than enough cash on hand to cover it, according to the complaint. By its next filing period, the campaign reported no debt, but continued to raise “debt retirement” money, the complaint states.
The complaint alleges that the campaign “violated [the Federal Election Campaign Act] and its implementing regulations by knowingly and willfully filing reports with the Commission that falsely attributed contributions for the 2020 primary election to the Committee’s debt retirement for the 2016 election.”
Trump declared his candidacy for the next presidential election shortly after his inauguration.
By law, Trump officially became a candidate as soon as he raised $5,000 after the election, the complaint alleges, and money raised once debt is cleared should immediately be treated as campaign funds.
“In the rush to cash in on an unexpected election victory, the Trump campaign began raising and misreporting millions of dollars in campaign contributions more than two months before Trump was even sworn into office,” Common Cause vice president Paul Ryan said in a statement.
There was no immediate response from the Trump campaign.