PACs get their funding through voter engagement and exposure. Since the 2020 election is so well-funded and highly-watched, it’s a good time to be a PAC owner. However, PAC owners are also receiving more scrutiny from politicians, journalists, election campaign watchdogs, and government officials. The Federal Election Commission is the body of government that regulates election funding.
If you are aware that your committee is being investigated by a federal agency or the FEC, or you believe that you might become targeted by federal investigators, it’s vital that you contact a lawyer as soon as possible. Public investigations can cause serious damage to the reputation and integrity of a PAC even if they’re based on false allegations.
One of the benefits of having an experienced attorney is that they can reduce the risk that this happens. They can handle the legal aspect of the investigation and work to resolve it without public scrutiny or the filing of any charges.
Why the FEC May Target a Committee
The FEC regulates and enforces a huge number of laws related to campaign finance. If a PAC supports an election candidate for president or for another office, they must comply with the FEC regulations. The FEC is known for being intense and swift about investigating potential violations. There are a number of reasons why the FEC might open an investigation into a PAC or its owner. Some of the most common are:
- The FEC believes that the PAC has violated public corruption and campaign finance laws due to discrepancies with their paperwork
- The FEC receives a whistleblower complaint given by political opponents, disgruntled ex-employees, and others
- The FEC receives a complaint from a watchdog organization concerned about election compliance
- The IRS, FBI, or another federal agency has done an investigation that indicates campaign finance law may have been violated
Potential Charges During a Federal Investigation
Any violation of FEC regulations can result in a potential charge. The FEC is capable of bringing charges of both a criminal and civil nature against PACs and the people who own them. In 2020, most of the FEC’s investigative capabilities seem to be focused on fundraising violations.
The majority of PAC organizers understand the disclaimer and advertising requirements laid out by the FEC. However, if a targeted investigation occurs, you won’t be able to scrape by with a basic understanding of the rules. It’s important to have a lawyer who understands the laws and any potential errors that have been made.
If you indicate that you know the basics of the law, this can actually backfire. Should the FEC then prove that you’ve broken a regulation, they will use your basic knowledge of the law to say that you committed the slight on purpose.
One possible allegation is that a PAC uses misleading quotes and photos. The FEC has rules about how PACs can use the names and faces of a candidate. PACs cannot use candidates to imply that they have been endorsed by said candidate. PACs also need a license to use the likeness of a candidate they aren’t affiliated with.
Another possible allegation is the use of inadequate disclaimers. When PACs make advertisements, they must comply with the disclaimer requirements. This is true whether a PAC is affiliated with a particular candidate or not. PACs generally need to issue disclaimers about the fact that the advertisement is being paid for by their organization.
People may also be accused of misleading or false claims of endorsement. This involves claiming that a candidate has endorsed the PAC when it has not.
A serious allegation is failure to disclose how contributions are used. PACs need to be transparent about how they spend their money, and failing to do so can open huge investigations.