For The Record

Common Cause Georgia sues FEC over dismissed complaint that conservative nonprofit broke finance rules

By: - October 11, 2022 4:15 pm

Common Cause Georgia and Campaign Legal Center Action are accusing the Federal Election Commission, or FEC, of failing to protect campaign finance transparency when it dismissed a complaint accusing the Georgia Republican Party and nonprofit organization True the Vote of skirting the law in an attempt to influence the 2021 U.S. Senate runoffs. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Common Cause Georgia is suing the Federal Election Commission for dismissing a complaint alleging that conservative election-monitoring organization True the Vote illegally contributed to the Georgia Republican Party during the January 2021 runoffs for two U.S. Senate seats.

The lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia accuses three Republican commissioners of failing to enforce federal campaign finance law when they went against an FEC general counsel’s recommendation to open an investigation into the relationship between the Texas-based nonprofit and the Georgia Republican Party following the 2020 presidential election. 

Common Cause Georgia and Campaign Legal Center Action charge that True the Vote’s partnering with the Georgia Republican Party under the guise of election integrity resulted in fraud because a nonprofit corporation illegally coordinated with and made undisclosed in-kind contributions in the form of expenditures to a political party committee.

After Common Cause’s complaint was denied the four votes necessary for an investigation to proceed on Aug. 11, the federal court lawsuit seeks to remedy that by a having a judge rule that the FEC’s dismissal of the case was unlawful and goes against the purpose of an agency charged with fighting political campaign corruption in the name of transparency.

“The FEC’s three Republican commissioners rejected that (Office of General Counsel) recommendation, however, and failed to stand up for hundreds of thousands of Georgia voters by letting True the Vote off the hook for their illegal attempts to undermine people’s votes in 2021,” Aunna Dennis, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, said in a statement. 

“We have another important election just weeks away and Georgia voters need reassurance that their rights to vote will always be respected and that our federal institutions won’t neglect their duties to enforce the law,” Dennis said.

A FEC spokesman declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Under IRS code, True the Vote is a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation that can provide voter outreach such as hosting registration drives or publishing voter education guides as long as the activities are conducted in a non-partisan manner.

Nonprofits can lose their tax-exempt status if they make donations to political campaign funds or make partisan public statements as an organization. 

Heading into the 2021 runoffs in which Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock flipped control of Congress by defeating Republican U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, True the Vote and the Georgia GOP Party announced their partnership as a way to provide more secure and transparent elections through signature verification training, a voter hotline, monitoring absentee ballot drop boxes and challenging  the eligibility of 364,000 voters.

“We are grateful for the help of the True the Vote team in the fight for election integrity,” Georgia GOP Chairman David Shafer said in the Dec. 14, 2020, announcement. “We are calling on all Georgians who care about the future of our country and the integrity of our elections to sign up as election day volunteers. The resources of True the Vote will help us organize and implement the most comprehensive ballot security initiative in Georgia history.” 

According to the lawsuit, two FEC commissioners disputed any violations of campaign law during a hearing by claiming True the Vote would have carried out the same activities regardless of involvement by the Georgia GOP and that resources were available to anyone interested, regardless of their political affiliation.

Shafer, who was named in the FEC complaint, was involved in unsuccessful litigation and a fake elector scheme following the November 2020 election seeking to overturn President Donald Trump’s loss to President-elect Joe Biden by under 12,000 votes.  

In addition, Shafer is targeted in a Fulton County special grand jury probe into whether Trump supporters illegally interfered with the election.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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