Today Common Cause, together with the Campaign Legal Center, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging Donald Trump’s campaign committee violated federal election law by illegally accepting campaign contributions after Election Day 2016 and falsely reporting those contributions for “debt retirement,” even though the campaign had no debt from the 2016 election.
Trump began to fundraise just days after his November 2016 victory. Federal law provides that a candidate may only raise funds after Election Day to retire outstanding debts from the election, or for a future election. But the Trump campaign ended the 2016 election with no outstanding net debt—therefore, all contributions made after Election Day should have either been refunded to contributors or designated for the 2020 primary election.
By claiming the funds raised after the 2016 election were for (nonexistent) 2016 debt retirement, instead of properly reporting the funds as 2020 primary contributions, the Trump campaign may have been trying to illegally double what a donor could give for the 2020 primaries.
Additionally, the complaint alleges that President Trump violated the law by failing to timely register as a 2020 candidate. A person becomes a “candidate” when they raise more than $5,000 for an election–a threshold Trump crossed soon after he began fundraising in early November. A candidate must register with the FEC within 15 days of becoming a candidate. President Trump waited more than two months and registered as a 2020 candidate on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017.
Following the complaint by Common Cause and the Campaign Legal Center, the Trump campaign amended its previously-filed disclosure report to accurately reflect that the funds its raised following the November 2016 election count toward donors' 2020 primary contribution limit.