Watchdog Group Accuses Trump Campaign of Violating Finance Law


A campaign watchdog group filed a formal complaint to the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday accusing Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign and related political committees of concealing payments of $7.2 million in legal fees by paying them through an unrelated shell company in violation of campaign finance law.

At the center of the complaint, from the Campaign Legal Center, is the company that received the payments, Red Curve. The company is run by Bradley Crate, who is also the treasurer for the Trump campaign and four related political committees listed in the complaint, as well as for 200 other candidates and committees.

In its complaint, the Campaign Legal Center said that the Trump political committees had used Red Curve, which did not appear to offer legal services, “as a conduit to conceal payments for legal services.” The group filed its complaint hours after The Daily Beast published an article about the payments to Red Curve.

Neither Red Curve nor representatives of the Trump campaign responded to a request for comment.

“This apparent payment scheme, however, violates the reporting requirements of the Federal Election Campaign Act,” the complaint said, “which requires that committees provide detailed information about who they are paying for services, and how much they are paying for those services.”

The complaint also said that Red Curve advanced payments for the legal costs to the Trump committees as part of the payment scheme, potentially violating a campaign finance law that prevents corporations from giving money to candidates.

“What Red Curve was doing was basically making a contribution,” said Saurav Ghosh, the director of federal campaign finance reform at the Campaign Legal Center. “If it’s treated as a corporation under federal campaign finance law, then that’s illegal on its face.”

He added: “If, alternatively, it’s an unincorporated entity for campaign finance purposes, then the contributions would be in excess” of the amount permitted by federal law.

Mr. Trump has spent more than $100 million on lawyers and other legal costs since he left office in 2021, relying almost entirely on political donations to cover those expenses. Red Curve was the largest single recipient of those payments, receiving $7.2 million, according to records filed to the F.E.C.

The F.E.C. also on Wednesday fined a pro-Trump super PAC $6,075 in a negotiated settlement for failing to disclose $150,600 in in-kind contributions in an April 2022 quarterly report. The super PAC — Make America Great Again, Again — was once a leading fund-raising group for Mr. Trump. It fell under scrutiny last year for an unusual payment of $155,000 to Melania Trump, Mr. Trump’s wife, for a speaking engagement.

The Trump campaign did not respond to questions about the fine.

In its complaint concerning Red Curve, the Campaign Legal Center cited what it said were similar violations of campaign finance law. The watchdog group noted the use of a law firm by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee in 2016 that made payments to the firm Fusion GPS to conduct research against Mr. Trump — research that was used in what became known as the Steele dossier. The Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. agreed to pay $113,000 in fines to settle an F.E.C. investigation into campaign spending disclosures.

“It’s similar to this situation,” Mr. Ghosh said of the Fusion GPS case. “In that there was, you know, a lack of transparency about who’s getting paid. What is the payment for?”

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