Watchdog sues FEC for closing investigation into Rick Scott, allied super PAC

Greg Nash

A watchdog group on Monday sued the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for dismissing a complaint alleging that Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) unlawfully used a super PAC to support his 2018 Senate run.

In a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Democratic group End Citizens United, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) Action challenged the decision by Republican FEC commissioners to close an investigation into Scott against the recommendation of the agency’s nonpartisan lawyers.

End Citizens United had alleged that Scott and the New Republican PAC, a group he formerly chaired, violated election laws prohibiting coordination between candidates and outside groups. 

Scott became chairman of the New Republican PAC in May 2017 and tapped several of his closest aides to run it. He stepped down as chairman before announcing his Senate run in 2018, but continued to host events for the super PAC, including a fundraiser in his own home.

While New Republican PAC initially said its mission was to support former President Trump, it changed its focus to Scott on the same day he announced his candidacy. The group ultimately spent $29.5 million on ads attacking Scott’s general election opponent, former Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), according to campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets. 

Last month, the FEC announced that commissioners deadlocked 3-3 on whether to pursue the matter, effectively ending the investigation. Republican commissioners voted to dismiss the case, arguing that the agency had insufficient evidence and an investigation would have consumed its resources.

The FEC’s general counsel had recommended that commissioners pursue the case after concluding that Scott may have unlawfully raised millions of dollars to benefit his own campaign.

“Once again, the FEC is betraying the American people by allowing massive election cheating to go unpunished,” Adav Noti, senior director of trial litigation at CLC Action and former associate general counsel of the FEC, said in a statement.

Scott defeated Nelson by about 10,000 votes in the general election with the help of New Republican PAC, which spent more money than any other group to influence the race. 

End Citizens United is asking the court to force the FEC to take action against Scott and his closely aligned super PAC.

“No political candidate should be allowed to get away with breaking the law to win an election and if we have to use the courts to get the FEC to enforce the law, we will continue to do so,” Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United, said in a statement.

The six-person FEC cannot have more than three members from the same political party. Most actions require four votes, leading to gridlock in high-profile cases.

The Hill has reached out to Scott’s office for comment. The FEC does not comment on litigation.

Tags 2018 election Bill Nelson Campaign Legal Center Donald Trump End Citizens United Lawsuit New Republican PAC Rick Scott Super PAC

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