CfA Asks FEC to Investigate Steve Schmidt, Dean Phillips Campaign for Illegal Coordination
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Jan 3, 2024
Contact: Michael Clauw, email@example.com, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a non-profit watchdog group, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) requesting an immediate investigation and enforcement action against Dean Phillip’s campaign committee, Dean 24, Inc., its supporting Super PAC, Pass the Torch USA Inc., and veteran campaign strategist Steve Schmidt for violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and Commission regulations. Evidence strongly suggests that, due to Schmidt’s self-professed involvement in the development of Phillip’s campaign strategy just weeks before he formed the Pass the Torch PAC, he and the PAC made $450,000 in coordinated communications with the campaign, which the PAC falsely reported as independent expenditures and the campaign failed to disclose as in-kind contributions.
CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “Candidates and their committees cannot coordinate strategy with super PACs. When the architect of the Phillip’s campaign suddenly moves over to lead a super PAC supporting Phillip’s candidacy the moment the ink on the blueprint is dry, the coordination is clear.”
In the weeks prior to the launch of his presidential campaign, Dean Phillips, by his own admission, had multiple substantial discussions with Steve Schmidt regarding the strategy and messaging his campaign should use to win the Democratic nomination. Less than two weeks after Phillips’ launched his campaign, Schmidt decamped to create Pass the Torch USA Inc, a super PAC supporting Phillips’ campaign. Very shortly thereafter, Pass the Torch began running ads echoing the Phillips campaign’s message “It’s time to pass the torch to a new generation of American leaders” – the very message Schmidt apparently helped craft for the campaign.
FEC regulations provide a three-part test for determining when a communication is a coordinated expenditure, which is treated as an in-kind contribution: 1) the source of payment; 2) the subject matter; and 3) the interaction between the person paying for the communication and the candidate or committee. Here, Pass the Torch paid for the communication that directly advocated for the election of Phillips, leaving only the question of whether Schmidt and Phillips coordinated on the messaging Pass the Torch later employed.
If the communications by Pass the Torch had been created, produced or distributed after substantial discussions between Schmidt and Phillips, it would constitute a prohibited coordinated communication. Moreover, if the communications by Pass the Torch were coordinated with the Phillips campaign, Dean 24, Inc. may have violated FECA’s prohibition on knowingly accepting an excessive or prohibited contribution. Finally, if the communications were coordinated, Pass the Torch may have violated FECA’s reporting requirements by reporting the communications as independent expenditures rather than in-kind contributions to Dean 24, Inc.
CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “The FEC should immediately investigate whether Schmidt, Pass the Torch, and Dean 24 violated the law and, if so, seek appropriate sanctions.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.