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Court Orders FEC To Act On Ernst-Aligned Dark Money Group

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Federal Election Commission to take action against Iowa Values, a dark money group the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center argues is illegally tied to Sen. Joni Ernst and her reelection campaign.

Adav Noti with the Campaign Legal Center said Wednesday afternoon on Twitter, “A federal judge has granted our request and ordered the FEC to take enforcement action against a dark money group illegally supporting Sen. Joni Ernst.”

The group in question is Iowa Values, a tax-exempt 501 (c)(4) that CLC and others have accused of illegally coordinating with Ernst’s reelection campaign by placing ads, releasing statements and soliciting donations in her favor.

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The Campaign Legal Center first filed a complaint Dec. 19, 2019 with the FEC — days after the Associated Press reported evidence of illegal coordination between Iowa Values and Ernst’s campaign — arguing Iowa Values “violated FECA (Federal Employees Compensation Act) by failing to register as a political committee and file reports disclosing its contributors, expenditures and debts.”

A CLC court filing from September references ads supportive of Ernst placed on Google and Facebook by Iowa Values. It also references Claire Holloway Avella, a fundraiser for Ernst’s campaign committee, and the email solicitations she made to a perspective donor on behalf of Iowa Values.

The complaint reads, in part: Iowa Values “advertisements on Google and Facebook, in light of of their focus on Senator Ernst’s character as a ‘leader’ for Iowa, are susceptible to no reasonable interpretation other than as electoral advocacy for Senator Ernst, and that these ads substantiate Iowa Values’s major purpose of reelecting Senator Ernst.”

Of Avella and the Iowa Values strategy memo she emailed a potential donor, the complaint states: The Iowa Values “2019 strategy memo is further evidence of the organization’s major purpose of reelecting Senator Ernst, and that Iowa Values admitted to having such purpose in its communications to prospective donors.”

Starting Line reported in May that Ernst’s campaign still works with Avella and Holloway Consulting despite the highly scrutinized ties between the fundraiser and Iowa Values.

The FEC received the Campaign Legal Center’s complaint on Dec. 27, 2019 but has failed to act on the complaint because it lacks the necessary number of commissioners.

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The CLC’s September filing laments how the FEC was “plagued with ideological obstruction” even prior to its loss of a quorum over the summer. Currently, only three seats on the six-member commission are filled. A quorum requires four voting commissioners. Commissioners are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. With a Republican president and GOP-controlled Senate, campaign finance watchdogs worry complaints will not be acted upon because investigating campaign finance violations is not a priority of the majority party.

Today’s ruling from U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth states the FEC must take action on the Campaign Legal Center’s complaint within 90 days.

 

By Elizabeth Meyer
Posted 10/14/20

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