Late Monday, Politico reported Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a lawsuit against the non-profit American Action Network (AAN). The lawsuit aimed at the Paul Ryan-aligned group is the latest of its kind alleging a non-profit used most of its resources for campaign-related activities to support Republican candidates. NDGOP Chair and former Congressman Rick Berg serves on the board being sued.
Being classified as a “non-profit” allows mystery money groups like AAN to keep their donors private and away from public disclosure. Yet, with that secrecy comes stipulations as to what political activities the “non-profit” can engage in. CREW believes AAN has overstepped those requirements in the past. Others, including Republicans, believe CREW may have a decent case. According to Politico’s report, “Brett Kappel, a GOP campaign finance attorney at Akerman LLP, said this type of lawsuit is rare, but he said CREW appears to have a decent case. They have exhausted their administrative remedies at the FEC and their only recourse now is to turn to the courts.”
The lawsuit demands that AAN give up its nonprofit status and disclose its donors. American Action Network is affiliated with Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC; the two groups combined spent $45 million on the 2016 election cycle. – Maggie Severns, Politico (April 23, 2018)
This isn’t the first politically active “non-profit” with North Dakota involvement I’ve written about recently. At the end of March, America First Policies came to Fargo and hosted Vice President Mike Pence. One of the featured guests at that event was Rick Berg, the same former Congressman and current NDGOP Chair who serves on the AAN board now being sued. The event was billed as an “educational event” and because of their non-profit status issued disclaimers at the top of their materials that read, “***Please Note: This is an educational event, and all commentary should focus on policy and legislation –not politics or the upcoming midterm elections.” Pence gave a partisan, politically charged campaign speech. I’ve heard rumors of a potential Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaint being filed.
Which brings me back to the CREW lawsuit. They filed multiple complaints against AAN with the FEC which declined to take action. Last month a federal judge said the FEC’s dismissal of the complaint was “contrary to law.” Thus the current lawsuit and seeking a judicial remedy.
Campaign finance has been a disaster since Citizen United. Mystery groups funded by “dark-money” have been allowed to meddle in local politics sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars. These groups have their sights set on North Dakota in a highly contested Senate race and what will be a very competitive Congressional race for an open seat. I’ll be curious to see how, if at all, this latest lawsuit impacts national out-of-state special interest groups like the one Rick Berg serves.