Surveillance group files complaint against Trump campaign for lack of transparency in spending

The Campaign Law Center in a complaint alleges that the Trump campaign and an authorized joint funding committee violated the law by sending nearly $ 170 million to companies without disclosing their specific expenses to the public.

Among the firms specified by the group is American Made Media Consultants, a company founded by Parscale, whose firm Parscale Strategy is also listed in the complaint. American Made Media Consultants is the biggest seller of the Trump campaign, with more than $ 100 million of its expenses reported to the FEC.

The Campaign Law Center is accusing the campaign, Parscale, and several Trump campaign attorneys of spending money through these companies in an effort to hide the details of their spending and where the funds went. The complaint lists the development of the Trump campaign mobile app, which was developed by the Phunware company. According to the complaint, there are no direct payments to Phunware listed in any of the Trump campaign spending reports.

“Voters have a right to know how campaigns spend money to influence elections,” said Campaign Legal Center founder and president Trevor Potter, a former FEC Republican president. “This scheme runs counter to the transparency requirements of federal law, and leaves voters and donors in the dark about where the campaign funds are actually going.”

The Trump campaign strongly rejected the accusation, claiming that the use of American Made Media Consultants was legal and appropriate.

“[American Made Media Consultants] is a campaign provider responsible for organizing and executing media purchases and related services at fair market value. [American Made Media Consultants] “He doesn’t earn commissions or fees,” said campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh. “Build efficiencies and save campaign money by providing these in-house services that would otherwise be performed by external providers. The campaign reports all payments to [American Made Media Consultants] as required by the FEC. The campaign complies with all campaign finance laws and FEC regulations. “

Parscale himself appears several times in the complaint. The complaint also points to CNN and other media reports that Parscale Strategy, which is being held for $ 48,000 a month for “strategic consulting,” pays wages to several members of the Trump family and close confidants, including the daughter-in-law of the President Lara Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr.

But the complaint focuses mainly on the campaign itself and on joint fundraising committees. Parscale’s companies are not specifically accused of illegal behavior, although the inclusion of those details is likely intended to raise concerns about self-treatment within Trump’s broader campaign operation.

Parscale, who was recently replaced as Trump’s campaign manager, said the complaint was only designed to generate media attention.

“This is just a political theater within 100 days (since the elections),” Parscale said in a statement to CNN.

If the allegations highlighted in the complaint were proven, either before the FEC or in court, it would strike another political blow against a campaign and presidency that has been harassed by ethics violations and corruption allegations at its highest levels. Trump has yet to release his tax returns, creating a void of uncertainty about where his financial interests lie, and despite vowing to do so during his first campaign, he has not significantly relinquished control or access to the inner workings of their businesses.

Even under normal circumstances, it could take several months for the FEC to resolve allegations of this nature. But given the current status of the commission, this issue is unlikely to be resolved before the election.

Vacancies at the FEC have left the group without a quorum, with only three of the body’s six seats currently occupied, leaving it powerless to act. But that impasse could create an outlet for the Campaign Legal Center to bypass the FEC and take the matter directly to court. However, 120 days of commission inaction is required before the CLC has a chance to go to court, well beyond Election Day.

Still, Potter believes the complaint itself puts the Trump campaign on “notice” and hopes it will force them to be more transparent with their reports.

“We hope that the public attention that receives the complaint forces the campaign to recognize that they are violating the law and to take corrective measures,” Potter said.

While the commission is unlikely to rule on the case before Election Day, they will begin the process of hearing the case, which includes informing the Trump campaign of the complaint and giving them 30 days to respond.

CNN’s Dana Bash and Fredreka Schouten contributed to this report.