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The campaign finance watchdog CREW has been given unique permission to pursue one of its longstanding targets in federal court rather than through the habitually deadlocked and currently neutered Federal Election Commission.
The group, formally Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has complained for years to the FEC about the right-leaning American Action Network. The watchdogs allege the conservative group has routinely been spending millions to back Republican candidates and has violated federal election law by failing to register as a political committee and comply with donor disclosure rules.
The FEC has dismissed the case twice. The first time, CREW followed the normal procedures and sued the agency in federal court in hopes of a reversal, which did not happen. After the second dismissal by the regulators, CREW sued AAN directly.
On Monday, Judge Christopher Cooper of U.S. District Court in Washington said the litigation could go forward, declaring it was the first time a "citizen suit" of this kind has gone forward since the agency was created 45 years ago.
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The prohibition on House members serving as directors of outside groups should include nonprofit and private company boards, not only publicly traded enterprises, three prominent watchdog groups say.
The House has barred its members from such corporate boards only since January. The new Democratic majority changed the rules largely in response to the case of Republican Rep. Chris Collins of New York, charged a year ago with fraud, conspiracy and lying to the FBI in an alleged insider stock trading scheme involving Innate Immunotherapeutics, a biotech company where he was a board member. (Collins was re-elected last fall and is set to go on trial in February.)
The rules change resolution also set up a pair of House members to help the Ethics Committee recommend by the end of the year whether members and their aides should also be restricted from holding other outside positions.
Judges have no business stepping in when the agency in charge of enforcing campaign finance law decides not to, the federal appeals court in Washington has concluded.
Tuesday's decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is a significant blow to advocates of tougher regulation of money in politics.
By leaving intact an earlier interpretation of the law, the judges have decide that federal courts will not second-guess the Federal Elections Commission when it decides not to sanction campaigns or outside groups for violating campaign finance laws – even when such a non-enforcement move is the consequence of a deadlock, not because of an affirmative choice.
The top ethics office at the White House was kept vacant for a crucial six months of the Trump administration, and the president's lawyers sought to keep the situation under wraps, a watchdog group reported Tuesday.