A nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog group has filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission accusing President Donald Trump’s campaign of “laundering” tens of millions of dollars in donations through several companies, some connected to former campaign manager Brad Parscale.
The Campaign Legal Center in a complaint alleges that the Trump campaign and an authorized joint financing committee broke the law by sending close to $170 million to firms without disclosing their specific expenditures 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 Trump campaign’s largest vendor, with more than $100 million of its expenditures reported to the FEC.
The Campaign Legal Center is accusing the campaign, Parscale and several Trump campaign lawyers of passing money through these companies in an effort to conceal the details of their spending and where the funds were ultimately directed. The complaint lists the development of the Trump campaign’s mobile app, which was developed by the company Phunware. According to the complaint, there are no direct payments to Phunware listed in any of the Trump campaign expenditure reports.
CNN reported extensively on the app and Phunware’s role in its development.
“Voters have a right to know how campaigns are spending money to influence elections,” said Campaign Legal Center founder and President Trevor Potter, a former Republican chair of the FEC. “This scheme flies in the face of transparency requirements mandated by federal law, and it leaves voters and donors in the dark about where the campaign’s funds are actually going.”
The Trump campaign forcefully pushed back on the accusation, claiming the use of American Made Media Consultants was legal and appropriate.
“[American Made Media Consultants] is a campaign vendor responsible for arranging and executing media buys and related services at fair market value. [American Made Media Consultants] does not earn any commissions or fees,” said campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh. “It builds efficiencies and saves the campaign money by providing these in-house services that otherwise would be done by outside vendors. 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 is listed several times in the complaint. The complaint also points to media reports from CNN and others that Parscale Strategy, which is retained for $48,000 per month for “strategy consulting,” pays salaries to several Trump family members and close confidants, including the President’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr.
But the complaint is primarily focused on the campaign itself and the joint fundraising committees. Parscale’s companies are not specifically accused of illegal behavior, though the inclusion of those details is likely meant to evoke concerns about self-dealing 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 political theater 100 days out (from the election),” Parscale said in a statement to CNN.
If the allegations highlighted in the complaint were to be proved, either to the FEC or in court, it would strike another political blow against a campaign and presidency that has been beset by ethics violations and accusations of corruption at its highest levels. Trump has still not released his tax returns, which has created a void of uncertainty over where his financial interests lie, and despite promising to do so during his first campaign, has not meaningfully relinquished control or access to the inner workings of his businesses.
Even under normal circumstances, it could take the FEC several months to resolve allegations of this nature. But given the current status of the commission, it is unlikely that this matter will be settled before the election.
Vacancies on the FEC have left the group without a quorum, with only three of the body’s six seats currently filled, leaving it powerless to act. But that dead-end could create an outlet for the Campaign Legal Center to bypass the FEC and take the matter directly to court. However, it requires 120 days of inaction by the commission before the CLC would be given the opportunity to go to court, well past Election Day.
Still, Potter believes the complaint itself puts the Trump campaign on “notice” and he is hopeful it forces them to be more transparent with their reporting.
“We are hopeful the public attention the complaint receives forces the campaign to recognize that they are breaking the law and take corrective action,” Potter said.
While it is unlikely the commission will 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.