Investigative Group

Campaign Finance Watchdog Concerned About Russian Influence Took Foreign Gifts

Federal Election Commission (FEC) Commissioner Ellen Weintraub accepted foreign gifts worth thousands of dollars, then proposed a new agency plan to defend against foreign influence on U.S. elections, The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group has learned.

Weintraub, a Democratic member of the FEC and a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, proposed the plan in response to allegations that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election. She wants her proposal to be discussed at Thursday’s planned commission meeting.

The commissioner accepted foreign paid overseas travel to places like Central America and took taxpayer funds for an expensive Indonesia excursion, according to documents TheDCNF obtained. The trips included lengthy stays, expensive hotels and costly meals.

“The American public is justifiably alarmed by the reports of foreign attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” Weintraub wrote in a recent memo. “The FEC must find out the facts of what happened during the 2016 U.S. presidential election and move swiftly and firmly to fix any problems we find.”

“The commission must respond to complaints regarding foreign spending in our elections as quickly and as completely as possible,” she continued.

Weintraub’s plan includes examining the FEC’s enforcement resources, determining whether new regulations are needed, and receiving briefings from the Department of Justice.

“This issue need not be – and must not be – a partisan issue,” Weintraub wrote (emphasis hers). “Russia’s alleged activities in our 2016 presidential election may represent an unprecedented threat to the very foundations of our American political community.”

Meanwhile, foreign entities gave Weintraub thousands of dollars in gifts for just a few of the overseas trips TheDCNF reviewed, Office of Government Ethics (OGE) documents show. The records don’t show the purpose of her travel, but the FEC’s mission is to administer and enforce U.S. campaign finance law, according to its website.

“It is my honor to tell the story of America’s democracy to people in other countries, but it is my sworn duty to prevent foreign governments from interfering in American elections,” Weintraub told TheDCNF through an aide. “And I will not cease my efforts to promote and protect our democracy.”

The Inter-American Union of Electoral Organizations and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Honduras provided Weintraub with a nearly $2,100 trip to Honduras in 2013, documents show. Her hotel cost $744 for her four-day stay, which amounts to $248 per night if she stayed for three nights and checked out on time.

Weintraub also took a $2,250 trip to El Salvador, OGE documents show. The Tribunal Supremo Electoral of El Salvador funded the visit, which included an $800 hotel stay for likely three nights.

Mexican groups funded a two-day Weintraub trip to their home country in 2011, documents show. The $1,485 one-night visit included a $330 hotel stay and $280 for meals. She had also taken at least three other trips to Mexico during her tenure, documents show.

Additionally, American taxpayers funded Weintraub’s nearly $9,200 trip to Indonesia in 2013 while serving as FEC chairwoman. OGE documents show that the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Indonesia paid for the the travel, but the group used taxpayer money.

“Her travel expenses were covered by our [U.S. Agency for International Development]-funded Lessons from Electoral Process Exchange project,” IFES spokeswoman Daniela Colaiacovo told TheDCNF.

Weintraub’s Indonesia trip included a full-day roundtable, a half-day workshop, and another half-day event where she was asked to give “fairly broad” remarks, an itinerary TheDCNF obtained shows.

The document also shows a five-day gap between two of the events. Taxpayers also provided Weintraub with $759 for “incidentals” for the trip, according to the OGE document.

She previously urged the FEC to probe whether Russia paid for Facebook ads aimed at damaging Hillary Clinton. A nonprofit watchdog group requested the FEC’s Inspector General to investigate whether she violated ethics rules after Weintraub demanded Trump produce evidence of his claim of massive voter fraud in New Hampshire.

Additionally, the proposal Weintraub submitted to the FEC has a major difference from her initial memo — two anti-Trump petitions from advocacy groups requesting the agency investigate the Russian interference allegations.

The FEC “must thoroughly investigate not only Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election but potential collusion by the Trump campaign,” one petition with more than 160,000 signatures reads.

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