Watchdog files FEC complaint against super PACs linked to congressional leaders

Watchdog files FEC complaint against super PACs linked to congressional leaders
© Greg Nash

The Campaign Legal Center on Thursday accused political action committees with close ties to congressional leaders of violating election laws.

The nonpartisan watchdog group filed a Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaint against 18 super PACs that collectively poured $200 million into competitive elections from 2017 to 2020 while allegedly concealing their ties to Washington groups.

Political operatives launched these super PACs shortly before key elections with names that suggested local ties, such as “Keep Kentucky Great” and “Texas Forever.”

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In reality, the complaint states, they were funded by groups like the Senate Leadership Fund, which is affiliated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' MORE (R-Ky.), and the Senate Majority PAC, which is affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.).

By timing the release of their ads just before voters went to the polls, the complaint states, the super PACs delayed revealing their donors until after Election Day, obscuring their connections to Washington leaders.

The Campaign Legal Center said the super PACs violated election rules that require political committees to disclose their ties to affiliated groups. 

Adav Noti, the watchdog’s senior director of trial litigation and chief of staff, said the increasing popularity of the campaign tactic should prompt a “firm crackdown by the FEC.”

“Senior leaders of both parties have been steering money from wealthy special interests to front groups specifically designed to trick voters," Noti said in a statement. "Voters have a right to know when big money is flowing into their elections from D.C.-based groups hiding their agendas and funding behind fake names.”

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The Senate Leadership Fund frequently deployed the tactic in the 2020 election, according to the complaint. The group spent $38 million to influence January’s Georgia Senate runoffs through a group called Peachtree PAC. The McConnell-linked super PAC was also behind a group that meddled in last year’s Democratic primary for North Carolina Senate.

Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC used a similar strategy to influence last year’s Republican primary for Kansas Senate. Using a group called Sunflower State, the Schumer-aligned super PAC bankrolled ads unsuccessfully elevating controversial candidate Kris Kobach, who was opposed by Washington Republicans.

The super PACs named in the complaint did not immediately respond to a request for comment.