1With the WikiLeaks email scandal already causing the resignation of Democrat
Party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Hillary Clinton and the Democrat
Party may now face legal risk regarding violations of campaign finance
The June 22 WikiLeaks disclosure of 19,252 hacked emails appears to show a
pattern of senior officers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC)
scheming and colluding to favor Hillary Clinton and oppose Senator Bernie
Sanders (I-VT) during the 2016 Democrat primaries and caucuses. The emails
include DNC plans to commit “dirty tricks,” spread false rumors, and
coordinate activities directly with the Clinton campaign.
DNC officers earn annual salaries of $91,000 to $98,000 and staff members
earn $29,000 and $96,000 a year, according to the Glassdoor website. Such
apparent involvement by DNC employees in direct support of Clinton’s
political campaign may have represented hundreds of thousands of dollars of
Hillary Clinton fully understands the acute legal risk, after she had her
political start in the summer of 1971 working on a subcommittee for Democrat
Senator Walter Mondale in Washington, D.C. Clinton leveraged those contacts
to obtain a job in the spring of 1974 as a 26 year-old lawyer who helped
draw up President Nixon’s articles of impeachment for obstruction of
justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress.
Questions about Nixon’s election activities led to the Federal Election
Campaign Act of 1971,which instituted stringent disclosure requirements for
federal candidates, political parties and political action committees.
FECA amendments in 1974, following Nixon’s resignation, set very strict
limits on contributions by individuals, political parties and PACs. The
amendments also established an “independent agency” called the Federal
Election Commission to administer campaign and party disclosures statutes,
which include U.S. Code 52 USC 30109, that includes civil fines of “up to
300 percent” of illegal contributions, and criminal penalties of being “
imprisoned for not more than 5 years” for knowingly and willfully
committing a violation of any provision of the Act.
The FECA was further tightened with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of
2002, which banned national parties from raising or spending non-federal
funds, called “soft money,” which are contributions to a political party
that are not described as going to a particular candidate, thus avoiding
various legal limitations.
The FEC restricts individuals to contributions of up to $2,700, for each
candidate, per election cycle; $5,000 for each Political Action Committee; $
33,400 for a national committee per year; and $100,200 for national party
committee accounts per year.
The current federal election campaign laws require strict separation between
a political party and a candidate. The party cannot 1) coordinate with
candidates and 2) use party soft money funds raised for “party building
activities,” such as efforts to “get-out-the-vote” and generic “issue
advertising” to promote a particular candidate.
The WikiLeaks disclosures suggest a deep “coordination” between the DNC
and the Clinton campaign, but there is no direct evidence in the initial
dump of hacked emails that there were any “coordinated expenditures”
between the DNC and Clinton. It is possible, however, that the use of DNC
staff man-hours and equipment to aid one candidate in the context of a
primary election could have violated the soft-money expenditure ban.
The DNC and Clinton campaign may also be at risk for violating the campaign
finance laws of the 50 states. In the 27 states with Republican Attorneys
Generals, the DNC and Clinton probably cannot benefit from political
loyalties — but most state campaign finance laws are very lax.
WikiLeaks has stated that its hacker source, “Guccifer 2.0,” will soon
release the emails that were not disclosed by Clinton to the State
Department. Gussifer 2.0 also promises, “The main part of the [DNC] papers,
thousands of files and mails, I gave to WikiLeaks. They will publish them
2"What difference does it make?"