WASHINGTON (CN) – An elections law watchdog on Thursday filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission claiming incoming National Security Advisor John Bolton’s political action committee may have broken the law by illegally communicating with beleaguered data firm Cambridge Analytica during a 2014 senatorial campaign.
In a 14-page complaint, the Campaign Legal Center claims Bolton’s group used information from Cambridge Analytica to create advertisements for North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, whose 2014 campaign also worked with the data firm.
“Based on a Cambridge Analytica staffer’s online portfolio and other published reports, there is reason to believe that the John Bolton Super PAC used strategic information that Cambridge Analytica derived from its work for the party or campaign to develop advertisements expressly advocating for Tillis’ election, and thus made coordinated communications through the use of a ‘common vendor,'” the complaint states.
Tillis’ campaign committee paid Cambridge Analytica $30,000 during the 2014 election, while the North Carolina Republican Party separately paid the company $145,000 for consulting work. The John Bolton Super PAC also gave the firm $341,000 for “research,” according the complaint.
But the Campaign Legal Center claims Cambridge Analytica staffer Tim Glister’s online portfolio shows the three groups did not remain separate.
Glister posted he spent three months “helping Thom Tillis’ successful senatorial campaign create highly targeting advertising” using Cambridge Analytica’s data, but only offered an advertisement Bolton’s group made supporting Tillis as a sample of his efforts.
The Campaign Legal Center notes Glister slightly changed the wording of his portfolio after a reporter raised questions about his work.
The complaint also draws a tie between GOP megadonor Robert Mercer and Bolton’s group. Mercer is an investor in Cambridge Analytica and was also the top donor to the John Bolton Super PAC, according to the complaint.
All told, the Campaign Legal Center claims the alleged coordination between Cambridge Analytica and Bolton’s group means the John Bolton Super PAC should have reported the more than $1.3 million it spent on ads in favor of Tillis as contributions to his campaign. When considered this way, the ads blew past caps on campaign contributions, the Campaign Legal Center claims.
“It is important that the FEC investigate this violation and enforce the law so that the voices of everyday voters are not drowned out by billionaires,” Brendan Fischer, the director of the federal and FEC reform program at the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement. “This apparent violation fits into a pattern where the use of Cambridge Analytica as a vendor seems to be a condition of billionaire megadonor Robert Mercer’s support of a candidate. Cambridge Analytica has been used in both the U.S. and U.K. to unlawfully coordinate political entities in order to evade campaign finance limits.”
Cambridge Analytica did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the complaint. A spokesperson for Bolton pushed back against the complaint, insisting Bolton’s group did not coordinate with Tillis’ campaign.
“The allegations in the complaint are frivolous and the John Bolton Super PAC expects to be fully vindicated,” Garret Marquis, a spokesperson for Bolton, said in a statement.
“There was no coordination, direct or indirect, between the John Bolton Super PAC and the Tillis campaign, and the John Bolton Super PAC did not discuss any election-related, or any other topics, with the individuals named in the complaint. The John Bolton Super PAC acted independently of both federal and state campaigns, and any allegation to the contrary is baseless,” the statement continued.
“In fact, the John Bolton Super PAC never received any strategic information regarding Senator Tillis’s campaign from an employee at Cambridge Analytica or any other person,” the statement said. “Moreover, the John Bolton Super PAC received assurances from Cambridge Analytica that its activities were in compliance with all laws and regulations regarding election-related activity. This complaint is yet another attempt to use the guise of the law to score political points without any basis in reality.”
The U.K.-based data analysis firm has faced increased pressure from lawmakers and the public after reports in The Guardian and the New York Times about its use of Facebook data and work on the Trump campaign.
The Guardian reported earlier this month that the firm used data from a Facebook quiz that gained access not just to information about the 270,000 people who took it, but also about all of their friends. The researcher who developed the quiz made a database with the information from 50 million accounts, which the firm turned into 30 million voter profiles.
Cambridge Analytica worked with the Trump campaign as well as the push to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union, raising questions about whether the firm’s work on the 2016 election violated federal laws.