Watchdogs sue FEC, demand investigation of Karl Rove group

Watchdog groups are suing the Federal Election Committee after it dropped its inquiry into Crossroads GPS, the nonprofit organization co-founded by GOP operative Karl Rove.

The Campaign Legal Center and Public Citizen filed a complaint in 2010 that said the group flouted election laws by filing as a social welfare nonprofit while acting like a political committee.

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Crossroads GPS, which raised and spent more than $64.7 million from mid-2010 through 2011, maintains that because the majority of its money is not expressly advocated for or against any candidate in an election, its activities are within the law.

The FEC decided not to pursue the watchdogs’ complaint after deadlocking in a 3-3, party line vote.

Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, said in a statement Thursday that the three Republican members of the commission had a “tortured and obstructionist” strategy and “refused to follow the FEC’s own policies in determining political committee status.”

The new suit points to a report released on Friday by professional staff at the election regulator, which built a case for why there is “reason to believe” Crossroads GPS violated the law and recommended that the FEC begin an investigation.

“The nonpartisan General Counsel’s office recognized Crossroad GPS’s failure to register as a political committee as a clear-cut violation of the law and strongly recommended a full investigation but once again the Republican Commissioners blocked enforcement of the laws on the books,” said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, in a statement.

The investigation is necessary, the FEC report said, because the public does not have access to the relevant information, as many of Crossroad’s donors are kept anonymous.

Ryan said that federal scrutiny into Crossroads GPS could create more transparency in the campaign finance system.

“Despite the Supreme Court’s assurances in Citizens United that voters would have full disclosure by groups like Crossroads GPS, the group has spent nearly $100 million on election ads since 2010 without disclosing its donors,” Ryan added.

The FEC declined to comment.

Crossroads GPS is an offshoot from American Crossroads, a political 527 group also connected to Rove that operates under the same roof and employs many of the same staff.

The Sunlight Foundation estimated after the 2012 elections that Crossroads GPS had spent at least $130 million, though pinpointing a precise amount is difficult because the group is not required to report all of its spending.