A campaign finance watchdog group has requested that the Justice Department open a criminal investigation into the numbers behind a series of misleading Facebook ads that promoted Green Party candidates in the 2018 midterm elections.
An investigation by The Guardian recently revealed that the ads were placed by a major conservative marketing firm, contradicting an investigation by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which accepted Evan Muhlstein’s statement that he was responsible for the ads. and had not complied with the FEC. reporting requirements due to “inexperience”.
The ads were placed by a Facebook page called America Progress Now (APN) in the days leading up to the 2018 elections. APN was not registered with the FEC at the time, in violation of federal laws that require disclosure of so-called independent expenses.
The Campaign Legal Center, the nonpartisan watchdog group requesting the investigation, filed a complaint with the FEC about the group in 2019, but the FEC declined to investigate after Muhlstein took over the ads.
“Muhlstein gave the FEC the impression that he had only created the APN page, placed the ads and funded the ads, and that the reason APN did not comply with the legal disclosure was that it was not sophisticated,” he said. Brendan Fischer, the director. of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center.
Internal Facebook documents reviewed by The Guardian revealed that APN was in fact controlled by three conservative political agents, including Jake Hoffman, the CEO of Rally Forge, a political marketing firm with close ties to the pro-Trump youth group. Turning Point USA. Rally Forge had significant experience running independent spending in federal races and would have been aware of the reporting requirements. Hoffman is currently a member of the Arizona State Legislature.
“Muhlstein concealed all these material facts, and that concealment is what led the FEC to dismiss the complaint,” Fischer said. “The Justice Department should investigate whether Muhlstein violated the law by making material misrepresentations before the FEC … This seems like a very strong case.”
While the FEC has the power to enforce civil violations of campaign finance laws, “knowing and deliberate” violations are criminal and therefore handled by the justice department, Fischer said.
Ann Ravel, a former FEC commissioner, previously told The Guardian that Muhlstein’s statements to the FEC appeared “clear fraud” and should be referred to the Justice Department for investigation.
The Campaign Legal Center is also requesting a criminal investigation into whether APN knowingly and deliberately violated campaign finance laws.
“It appears that the whole purpose of this scheme was to evade disclosure laws designed to inform voters,” Fischer said. “These are potentially serious violations.”
He added: “It is worth noting that this is not well reflected in the FEC. The agency’s willingness to accept these claims at face value does not inspire confidence in the agency that is solely charged with enforcing the campaign finance law. “
Muhlstein did not respond to repeated inquiries from The Guardian prior to the publication of the investigation. Hoffman said in a statement: “Rally Forge is a marketing agency, not a compliance company. Furthermore, it is my understanding that the small handful of advertisements, totaling less than $ 2,500, that qualify as separate expenses, have been fully disclosed by the responsible organization in coordination with the FEC. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism