CREW Asks AG Holder to Clarify DOJ Position on FEC’s Relevance
Washington, D.C. – Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. asking that the Department of Justice (DOJ) clarify its position as to when DOJ will prosecute criminal campaign finance violations.
On Monday, in the trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards, a DOJ prosecutor argued that determinations made by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) are “not relevant” to criminal charges. In contrast, in 2009, in response to a letter from CREW, the director of DOJ’s Election Branch refused to investigate a case claiming, “there must be no doubt that the Commission considers that the underlying conduct presents a [Federal Election Campaign Act] offense.”
CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan stated, “DOJ can’t have it both ways. It can’t claim it must defer to the FEC one day, then argue that the FEC’s views are irrelevant the next. Our criminal justice system is based on the idea we have fair notice of what is and is not against the law. DOJ seems to have forgotten that fundamental American precept.”
In 2004, CREW filed an FEC complaint against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for creating the November Fund to run negative ads against then vice-presidential candidate John Edwards focused on his background as a trial lawyer. Four years later, the FEC deadlocked and failed to act, despite a withering report from the Commission’s General Counsel finding the Chamber had made an illegal $3 million contribution to influence the election. In light of all the evidence, CREW asked DOJ to investigate, but the Department refused claiming it could not act unless the FEC found a violation.
A few months later, after President Obama took office, CREW – this time in conjunction with the Campaign Legal Center – asked Attorney General Holder to reconsider. Again, DOJ declined to investigate, claiming that if four FEC commissioners couldn’t find a FECA violation, it was “highly unlikely” DOJ could convince a jury there had been a crime.
In the contentious November Fund matter, the politicized FEC split 3-3. In Edwards, however, the FEC voted 6-0 to close the audit of Edwards’ presidential campaign, knowing about the payments from Bunny Mellon and Fred Baron, without requiring they be reported.
Sloan continued, “DOJ’s position in Edwards is a 180 degree turn-around from the policy it expressed in 2009. You’d think DOJ would be compelled to maintain the same policy from one case to the next. Why the change here? Just because everyone hates John Edwards? Going forward, will DOJ be as aggressive with every other federal candidate or will it revert to deferring to the FEC whenever it’s more convenient?”