On January 22, 2020, Common Cause filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging reason to believe that Our Revolution, a nonprofit political organization established by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in 2016 and now supporting his 2020 presidential campaign, violated the federal ‘soft money’ ban. Sen. Sanders has been a longtime critic of super PACs and so-called “Dark Money” groups. The complaint documents that Our Revolution has solicited contributions explicitly to elect Sanders president, received contributions far in excess of the applicable $5,000 contribution limit and spent funds in connection with federal elections, including current voter mobilization efforts supporting Sanders in Iowa.
Under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, an entity directly or indirectly established by a federal candidate or officeholder is not allowed to “solicit, receive, direct, transfer, or spend funds in connection with an election for Federal office” unless the “funds are subject to the limitations, prohibitions, and reporting requirements” of federal law.
According to Our Revolution’s tax returns showing contribution amounts but not contributor names, data compiled and first reported by the Associated Press, from 2016 to 2018 Our Revolution raised almost $1 million dollars from contributors who gave in excess of the applicable $5,000 contribution limit, including multiple contributions of between $100,000 and $300,000. Our Revolution has not disclosed any of its contributors to the FEC, as required by federal campaign finance law.
“Americans expect and deserve to have our campaign finance laws enforced and they expect political organizations to abide by the law, regardless of their political views,” said Paul Seamus Ryan, Common Cause vice president for policy and litigation. “The facts surrounding Our Revolution, including its founding by Sen. Sanders, its receipt of six-figure contributions, its failure to disclose donors to the FEC, and its political spending in Iowa and elsewhere, point to a clear violation of the federal soft money ban. Common Cause is a nonpartisan organization and we work to hold power accountable regardless of party affiliation or policy positions. It is critically important that the soft money ban be enforced, or outside groups founded by candidates will become a commonplace means to evade contribution limits and disclosure requirements.”
In 2018, Common Cause filed a complaint against America First Policies and America First Action, outside groups founded by President Trump’s campaign after the 2016 election, alleging violation of the same soft money ban that Our Revolution appears to have violated. That complaint is still pending.