WASHINGTON (CN) – A government watchdog sued the Federal Election Commission on Thursday over its delay in responding to a complaint about a $500,000 campaign donation made to support Sen. Marco Rubio's 2016 presidential bid.
The lawsuit brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and its director Noah Bookbinder says the FEC has refused for more than two years to respond to a request for an investigation of and enforcement action against those involved in the donation.
Though not named as defendants, the complaint says that Andrew Duncan – owner of an entity called IGX LLC – Conservative Solutions PAC and its treasurer Nancy Watkins were involved in the transaction. Rubio, a Republican from Florida, isn't a party to the case.
According to the 13-page complaint, Duncan funneled the donation to Conservative Solutions PAC through IGX to conceal his identity, as he reportedly told the Associated Press.
According to the press report, Duncan cited concern about reprisal for funding human rights efforts in China as the reason for masking his identity.
FEC regulations and the Federal Election Campaign Act prohibits individuals from making or accepting campaign contributions made in someone else's name.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, says that multiyear delays in responding to administrative complaints is a problem for the FEC.
"When the FEC was formed, the idea was that it would deal with complaints in a matter of days or weeks," CREW communications director Jordan Libowitz said in an email. "It's been two years without action in this case, despite the fact that one of the parties has admitted in the press to making the donation at the center of the case. We should not have to sue the FEC to force them to do their job, but apparently we do."
The complaint quotes FEC commissioner Ellen Weintraub, who expressed a longstanding concern about delays at the agency in a 2017 statement to the American Conservative Union.
"Effective enforcement of the law is undermined by pervasive delays," Weintraub had said.
According to CREW's complaint, those delays embolden "other FEC commissioners to halt enforcement actions."
Pointing in the lawsuit to a 2011 complaint CREW filed with the FEC to illustrate the problems caused by the agency’s delays, CREW says the FEC dismissed the complaint more than four years later partly because the statute of limitations had expired.
"Such delays commonly impact the FEC’s ability to carry out its enforcement function, as documents may be destroyed or lost and witness memories may fade," the complaint says. "In addition, the running of the five-year statute of limitations constrains the FEC’s enforcement, as after the statute has run, it can no longer issue fines."
The lawsuit also says these delays undermine CREW's ability to access information it's entitled to under the Federal Elections Campaign Act, and hampers its ability to bring litigation under the law.
When asked for comment, FEC press officer Judith Ingram said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
CREW seeks declaratory relief and a court order requiring the FEC to act on its administrative complaint.
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