Yesterday I filed a complaint on behalf of James O’Keefe III and Project Veritas Action Fund with the Federal Election Commission. You may have heard about their discovery—Hillary for America, the Democratic National Committee, and numerous third-party groups appear to have knowingly violated federal coordination laws. This included a massive network of paid politicos staging fake protests, inciting political violence at Trump rallies, and otherwise manipulating the electoral system.
The investigation shocks the conscience for any fair-minded viewer. Revelations include details about how Democratic operatives use the mentally ill as pawns, employ illegal busing tactics to move voters state-to-state, and otherwise game the electoral system. And, remember, all this from a campaign that has promised to end “secret, unaccountable money in politics.”
Notably, this is the first time I have ever filed a complaint with the Commission—even though I have served as counsel to two Chairmen of the FEC and advised clients on FEC issues nationally for years. I’m a big proponent of free speech and generally skeptical about the reach of campaign finance laws. Unlike many other laws I’ve challenged, the FEC’s coordination rules are pretty clear and offer many safe harbors to engage in free speech.
It is manifestly shocking when undercover video reveals high-level Democratic operatives plotting to evade the law everyone is expected to follow. Coordination provisions ensure that powerful candidates will not puppeteer outside groups—like Catholic advocacy organizations, non-profits, or unions—to do their bidding. Otherwise, a supposed chorus of voices of independent speakers is really just the echo of a corrupt political machine. These basic legal requirements ensure that independent speech is, well, independent and any coordination must abide by federal regulations and restrictions. Simple so far.
In the Veritas Action investigation, James O’Keefe III discovered that supposedly spontaneous protests at Donald Trump rallies were really the concentrated efforts of third-party groups, Hillary for America, and the DNC. Indeed, Veritas Action found numerous instances of these supposedly independent actors seeking permission from Hillary for America for their messaging or getting approval for just how extreme their tactics could be. As one operative described it, they maintain secret, ongoing communications between the DNC and Super PACs and third-party groups. Under federal election law, this sort of material involvement by a candidate campaign committee or a party committee is blatantly illegal.
In the midst of this controversy, two operatives—Bob Creamer of Democracy Partners and Scott Foval of Americans United for Change—have resigned. With the filing of this complaint, we urge the FEC and Department of Justice to undertake a serious look at the activities of these groups because the Veritas Action investigation reveals the possibility of serious criminal violations.
Facing an already tumultuous election year, these revelations should be disturbing for any American. Not since Watergate has our nation witnessed so perverse a manipulation of our national politics. And not since Watergate have we witnessed such a blatant disregard of our laws by political elites. With today’s filings, I hope to right these wrongs and bring real transparency to elections.
Benjamin Barr is a Washington, DC area attorney specializing in election law and First Amendment litigation. He has served as counsel to two Chairmen of the FEC and the Supreme Court has cited his First Amendment work in Citizens United.