Former Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee broke the law in the way they handled their effort to dig up dirt on President Donald Trump, according to a complaint filed Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that the Clinton campaign and the DNC funded development of a now-discredited dossier that claimed to document misbehavior by Trump while in Russia and also claimed Trump had close connections with Russian officials.
Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained the firm Fusion GPS to conduct the research into Trump. Fusion GPS then hired Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, to do the work.
Perkins Coie, the firm for which Elias works, was paid $12.4 million to represent the Clinton campaign and the DNC during the 2016 campaign.
The complaint from the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center said that by paying the firm of Perkins Coie to fund development of the dossier while not saying that’s what it was doing, the campaign and DNC broke the law.
The Clinton and campaign and the DNC “failed to accurately disclose the purpose and recipient of payments for the dossier of research alleging connections between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russia, effectively hiding these payments from public scrutiny, contrary to the requirements of federal law,” the Center said on its website.
According to FEC reports, Clinton’s campaign reported 37 payments to the law firm and reported each disbursement as “Legal Services.”
The DNC reported 345 payments to Perkins Coie during the election cycle and marked the payments as “legal and compliance consulting,” “administrative fees,” “data services subscription” and others.
“The purpose of at least some portion of the payments to Perkins Coie was not for legal services; instead, those payments were intended to fund opposition research,” the complaint said. “This false reporting clearly failed the Commission’s requirements for disclosing the purpose of a disbursement.”
The CLC said the campaign and DNC tried to end run the rules.
“By filing misleading reports, the DNC and Clinton campaign undermined the vital public information role of campaign disclosures,” said Adav Noti, senior director of trial litigation and strategy at CLC. “Voters need campaign disclosure laws to be enforced so they can hold candidates accountable for how they raise and spend money.
“The FEC must investigate this apparent violation and take appropriate action,” Noti added.
“Questions about who paid for this dossier are the subject of intense public interest, and this is precisely the information that FEC reports are supposed to provide,” said Brendan Fischer, director of federal and FEC reform at CLC.
“Payments by a campaign or party committee to an opposition research firm are legal, as long as those payments are accurately disclosed,” he said. “But describing payments for opposition research as ‘legal services’ is entirely misleading and subverts the reporting requirements.”
Writing on LawNewz, Rachel Stockman said there is a fine line separating legal fro illegal activities.
“It is legal under current campaign finance law for the Hillary Clinton campaign to commission an opposition research company to dig up dirt on Donald Trump,” she wrote. “What is not legal, according to campaign legal experts, is for the campaign to pay a law firm who then hires other to perform campaign related activities without reporting the purpose of the expenditures.”