Co­or­di­na­tion with Clin­ton great­est risk on Ver­i­tas videos

Com­plaints to FEC re­quest in­ves­ti­ga­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

Pay­ing ag­i­ta­tors to bait Trump sup­port­ers may be sleazy, but it’s un­likely to re­sult in le­gal trou­ble for the Demo­cratic op­er­a­tives caught in the Project Ver­i­tas Ac­tion sting.

What may land Democrats in hot wa­ter are a num­ber of less-no­ticed con­ver­sa­tions on the ex­plo­sive un­der­cover videos re­leased last week sug­gest­ing co­or­di­na­tion among the Hil­lary Clin­ton cam­paign, the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and proDemo­crat third-party groups.

At least two com­plaints have been filed with the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion re­quest­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into sus­pected wrong­do­ing.

Such com­plaints face a high bar: Even when co­or­di­na­tion is sus­pected, it’s dif­fi­cult to find ev­i­dence show­ing that po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns worked in ca­hoots with third par­ties such as su­per PACs. The FEC’s three-prong test holds that com­plainants must show that co­or­di­na­tion in­volved pay­ment, con­tent and con­duct.

“To a large ex­tent, the FEC has never re­ally been forced to come down on peo­ple about this co­or­di­na­tion,” said Joseph Van­der­hulst, le­gal coun­sel for the Pub­lic In­ter­est Le­gal Foun­da­tion, which filed an FEC com­plaint last week.

That is one rea­son the Project Ver­i­tas in­ves­ti­ga­tion is gain­ing at­ten­tion from ad­vo­cates for clean cam­paign­ing, said J. Chris­tian Adams, the le­gal foun­da­tion’s pres­i­dent and gen­eral coun­sel.

“It’s hard to prove — un­til you start get­ting videos,” said Mr. Adams. “That’s what makes this so spe­cial.”

The foun­da­tion’s com­plaint was fol­lowed by one from Project Ver­i­tas Ac­tion, which asked the com­mis­sion to act within 120 days on sus­pected vi­o­la­tions of the Fed­eral Elec­tion Cam­paign Act.

“This crim­i­nal con­spir­acy in­volves the know­ing and will­ing cre­ation of co­or­di­nated ex­pen­di­tures from pro­hib­ited cor­po­rate sources,” said the Project Ver­i­tas com­plaint filed by Ben­jamin Barr, who pre­vi­ously served as coun­sel to two FEC chair­men.

Tran­scripts from the Project Ver­i­tas in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ti­tled “Rig­ging the Elec­tion,” show that “the sup­pos­edly in­de­pen­dent speech and ac­tions of third-party groups were di­rected, con­trolled, or pup­peteered by [Hil­lary for Amer­ica] or the DNC,” said the com­plaint.

“In­deed, the record es­tab­lished not just sim­ple vi­o­la­tions of the FECA’s co­or­di­na­tion pro­vi­sions, but on­go­ing know­ing and willful eva­sion of fed­eral elec­tion law re­quire­ments through a com­pli­cated scheme,” Mr. Barr said.

The footage shows Scott Fo­val, na­tional field di­rec­tor of Amer­i­cans United for Change, dis­cussing his work co­or­di­nat­ing protests against Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump with the DNC, the Clin­ton cam­paign and third-party groups.

“We have a clip de­liv­er­able that we have to de­liver ev­ery day for our group of clients who are in­volved in this project,” Mr. Fo­val said in footage from Sept. 23. He then cites Amer­i­cans United for Change, Al­liance for Change, and the Al­liance for Re­tired Amer­i­cans, an arm of the AFL-CIO.

“And then there’s the DNC and the cam­paigns and Pri­or­i­ties. Pri­or­i­ties are a big part of this, too,” said Mr. Fo­val, ap­par­ently re­fer­ring to the su­per PAC Pri­or­i­ties USA.

Pri­or­i­ties USA and other su­per PACs are barred from co­or­di­nat­ing with can­di­dates in part be­cause they may ac­cept unlimited con­tri­bu­tions from cor­po­ra­tions and unions, while po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns can­not.

“Su­per PACs are al­lowed to co­or­di­nate with one an­other. Where the co­or­di­na­tion comes in is be­tween the cam­paign or cam­paign’s agent and the su­per PAC,” said Bren­dan Fis­cher, Cam­paign Le­gal Cen­ter as­so­ciate coun­sel. “So if the cam­paign asks the su­per PAC to do some­thing, if the cam­paign says, ‘I want you to do this ad,’ and the su­per PAC does it, then that would be co­or­di­na­tion.”

At one point, Mr. Fo­val in­di­cated that he acted as an in­ter­me­di­ary be­tween the su­per PACs and the cam­paign. “We’re con­sul­tants, so we’re not the of­fi­cial en­tity, and so those con­ver­sa­tions can be had be­tween con­sults who are work­ing for dif­fer­ent parts.”

“The cam­paigns and DNC can­not go near Pri­or­i­ties, but I guar­an­tee-damn-tee you that the peo­ple who run the su­per PACs all talk to each other, and we and a few other peo­ple are the hubs of that com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” said Mr. Fo­val.

The Clin­ton cam­paign, the DNC and the third par­ties men­tioned in the videos have not com­mented pub­licly on the com­plaints, al­though Mrs. Clin­ton said that she was un­aware of the dirty tricks. “I know noth­ing about this,” she said.

Mr. Fo­val was fired shortly after the first video was re­leased a week ago. A day later, Democ­racy Part­ners’ Robert Creamer, also fea­tured in the video, stepped down from the pres­i­den­tial race.

Mr. Creamer said in his state­ment that his con­sult­ing group had “al­ways ad­hered to the high­est stan­dards of trans­parency and le­gal­ity in our work for DNC.”

Mr. Van­der­hulst said those named in the com­plaint may ar­gue that fire­walls were put into place to pre­vent co­or­di­na­tion, and in­deed, Mr. Fo­val said in the video that he had erected a “dou­ble blind” be­tween his op­er­a­tion and the DNC and Clin­ton cam­paign.

“The thing we have to watch is to make sure there’s a dou­ble blind be­tween the ac­tual cam­paign and the ac­tual DNC and what we’re do­ing,” Mr. Fo­val said. “There’s a dou­ble blind there. So they can plau­si­bly deny that they knew any­thing about it.”

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