Complaint alleges Maine Democratic Party helped launder millions for Hillary Clinton
NATIONWIDE (WGME) - A complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission is alleging massive money laundering involving the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Maine Democratic Party, and dozens of other state parties across the country.
A political committee backing President Trump says it's uncovered an elaborate and illegal fundraising scheme designed to benefit Clinton during the 2016 election and claims it could be the biggest campaign finance scandal in history.
Representing the Committee to Defend the President, attorney Dan Backer is now suing the Federal Election Commission, trying to force an investigation.
The alleged issue centers on what's known as a joint fundraising committee, in this case, the Hillary Victory Fund (HVF).
HVF was designed to support state parties, the Clinton campaign, and other Democrats running in 2016.
"It allows a donor to give essentially one big check instead of multiple smaller checks," explained Mike Franz, professor of Government and Legal Studies at Bowdoin College.
A national expert on campaign finance, Franz says joint fundraising committees are legal and are commonly used to make it easy for donors.
"It's sort of like the joint fundraising committee said give us a bunch of money and we'll split it up into different pots," Franz said.
In 2016, a donor could write a check for up to $356,100 to the Hillary Victory Fund. Of that money, $2,700 would go to the Clinton campiagn, $33,400 to the Democratic National Committee, and the remaining money was to be split up among the 32 participating state parties, including the Maine Democratic Party.
"At no point did these state parties have custody or control of the money. These funds were never a contribution to them. It was just money laundering and papering it through them," Backer said.
Backer's complaint and subsequent lawsuit filed with the FEC allege "an unprecedented nationwide scheme to violate federal campaign finance law in which $84 million was effectively laundered over more than a year by the Hillary Victory Fund (HVF) through dozens of state political party committees to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and, ultimately, to Hillary for America (HFA)."
"They basically thought they were going to win, no one would care and they wouldn't get caught any way," Backer said.
Reports filed with the FEC show the Hillary Victory Fund would transfer money to the state parties and on the same day, the parties transferred the same amount of money to the DNC.
The complaint alleges in Maine more than $2 million was transferred from the Hillary Victory Fund to the Maine Democratic Party and then that money was sent right away to the DNC.
"We've identified about $84 million that moved this way and all of it is illegal," Backer said.
The DNC disagrees and called the complaint bogus.
"This bogus complaint is nothing more than a political stunt designed to distract voters from the real issues that matter to working American families and the fact that Republicans have no record to run on in 2018. Let's be clear, the 'Trump Victory Fund' fundraised for the Trump campaign the exact same way in 2016, raising more than $100 million through joint agreements with 20 state parties. This complaint from the pro-Trump PAC known as 'The Committee to Defend the President' does nothing but exemplify the blatant hypocrisy Trump and his swamp creatures have embraced in Washington," said Elizabeth Renda, DNC Northeast Press Secretary, in a statement to CBS 13.
"If the intent was to use the joint fundraising committee as a way to get a lot of money back into the DNS for purposes of helping Hillary that could be illegal," Franz said.
Franz said that intent could be difficult to prove.
The Maine Democratic Party declined an on-camera interview.
“We, like thirty-two other state parties across the country, participated in the joint fundraising agreement because it helped strengthen our state party apparatus, along with that of the Democratic National Committee. In fact, as a result of our participation, we were able to hire and deploy organizing staff across the state during the 2016 post-primary election cycle. Furthermore, as a result of the money raised, the DNC was able to enhance national voter data infrastructure and improve outreach and communication efforts - all of which we benefited from at the state level. It was, and continues to be, our opinion that strengthening Democrats at both the state and national level is positive for the party as a whole," said Scott Ogden, a spokesman for the Maine Democratic Party.
In multiple interviews and in her book, former interim DNC chair Donna Brazile revealed that before she took control, the DNC struck a deal with Clinton's campaign.
"In exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party's finances, strategy and all the money raised," Brazile wrote in her book.
"I found evidence that in addition to the standard joint fundraising agreement, there was also an addendum, a memorandum of understanding that in exchange for relieving the DNC of its debt that the Clinton campaign would run certain parts of the DNC," Brazile said during an interview.
Backer said that shows all the money that was transferred from the state parties to the DNC directly benefited the Clinton campaign.
Even fellow Democrat Bernie Sanders was critical of the Hillary Victory Fund saying in a 2016 press release it "appears to operate in a way that skirts legal limits on federal campaign donations and primarily benefits the Clinton presidential campaign."
"It looks suspicious in the way all that money was ruffled around, but in the rough and tumble of campaigns, money is flowing around to help campaigns that need it the most," Franz said.
The treasurer for the Hillary Victory Fund couldn't be reached.
A press officer for the FEC said the Commission would not comment on litigation matters.
The FEC is expected to weigh in on the complaint later this month.