A leading elections lawyer is calling for an immediate investigation into a $1.3 million threat now hanging over the head of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, money a website says will be provided to her next opponent only if she votes to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A left-leaning activist organization, Mainers for Accountable Leadership (MFAL), is teaming up with an organization called the Maine People’s Alliance, to crowdsource a fundraising campaign targeting Collins in her 2020 re-election if she votes to confirm Kavanaugh.
But the fundraising has a catch. “Donors” are asked to pledge a donation against Collins, money that will only be charged to their credit card if she makes a yes vote for President Trump’s nominee.
Collins, an independent-minded Republican, has not revealed if she will vote for Kavanaugh. But Kavanaugh’s recent testimony stating that Roe v. Wade is “settled law” appears to have satisfied her major concern about potential judicial activism.
In an exclusive statement to Newsmax, Collins stated:
“I consider this quid pro quo fundraising to be the equivalent of an attempt to bribe me to vote against Judge Kavanaugh.
“If I vote against him, the money is refunded to the donors. If I vote for him, the money is given to my opponent for the 2020 race,” she said.
She emphasized “this effort will not influence my vote at all,” adding, “I think it demonstrates the new lows to which the judge’s opponents have stooped.”
The ActionNetwork.org states that MFAL operates a federally registered political action committee. Maine People’s Alliance is a 501(c)4 organization, that is, a tax exempt group acting to promote socially beneficial objectives. But the actual fundraising campaign is being hosted by a San Francisco-based, for-profit website Crowdpac.com.
The site’s homepage currently has a banner ad urging Collins to vote against Kavanaugh, stating: “Mainers and over 31,000 Americans across the country are sending Senator Susan Collins a message by pledging to fund her opponent IF she votes yes to confirm Kavanaugh.”
The crowdsourcing campaign states that if Collins votes against Kavanaugh donors won’t have to pony up any money, but if she does vote in the affirmative, the site promises to “fund her future opponent” in 2020.
As of Monday afternoon, the Crowdpac site declared it had raised $893,600. The campaign’s stated goal is $1,302,388.
A prominent Republican elections attorney, Cleta Mitchell of Foley & Lardner, told Newsmax this unusual fundraising effort may violate election laws.
“They’re trying to tie her official action to their threat that they’re going to give $1 million to somebody to run against her, if she doesn’t vote the way [they want her] to.”
Mitchell questioned the legality of the attempt to politically strong-arm Collins.
“It is certainly raising the specter of whether or not this violates the United States criminal code to prohibitions against attempted bribery, by linking official actions to monetary reward,” she said.
She noted that in Title 18, Section 201 of the U.S. criminal code states it is expressly a violation whenever a party “directly or indirectly gives, offers, or promises anything of value to any public official… for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by such public official….”
Mitchell on Monday called for both the Department of Justice and FEC to investigate this crowdfunding campaign.
“The federal law prohibits anyone from offering a member of Congress anything of value in exchange for a Member’s vote,” Mitchell stated.
“These people have conspired to do just that — they are dangling a fairly substantial ‘thing of value’ — namely, $1 million dollars to be given or not given to Sen Collins’ opponent, in exchange for her vote on a specific matter before the Congress.”
“Crowdpac has been thoroughly vetted by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and our operations and business model have received unanimous approval from the regulator,” TJ Adams-Falconer, a spokesperson told Newsmax. “The notion that Crowdpac operates outside of established federal election law, or operates as a PAC, is simply false. When we were founded, we received a unanimous Advisory Opinion (2014-07) from the FEC that approved our business model and established the ability to raise funds through commercial services and tools on our website.”
He added that “Crowdpac does not make contributions, process contributions, deposit contributions into a merchant or bank account in its name, or forward contributions to candidate committees. As such, we are fundamentally different from a political action committee, and to register as one would be contrary to the approved operations outlined in our FEC advisory opinion. We always have been, and remain today, a for-profit corporation operating exclusively on a commercial basis.”
“Ady Barkan, the creator of this Campaign, and his Be A Hero PAC have selected a Nominee Fund for these pledges if they convert to contributions. Nominee Funds, in which a donation is earmarked for a future nominee of a designated political party in a specific election, were first authorized by the FEC in Advisory Opinion 1982-23.”
But Mitchell argues that Crowdpac is not complying with the FEC Advisory Opinion.
“Nominee Funds are collected before a primary and are disbursed based on the outcome of an election, not on how a member of Congress votes,” Mitchell said.
“What Crowdpac has done in this instance is to allow its platform to be used for a purpose quite different from the purpose approved in the FEC opinion. There is no mention in the opinion of using their proposed vehicle as a means of giving or withholding financial support for members of Congress in exchange for their votes or other official action.”
Crowdpac was co-founded in 2014 by Steve Hilton, a Fox News commentator who hosts “The Next Revolution,” a weekly program. Crowdpac originally was positioned as a bipartisan fundraising website.
But according to The Hill, the company took a sharp turn to the left in May. Hilton stepped down from his position as CEO of the company, and the acting Crowdpac CEO, Jesse Thomas, announced in a post on Medium.com that the site would no longer be accepting fundraising campaigns on behalf of Republican candidates.
Crowdpac said it was “temporarily suspending” fundraising for GOP campaigns because Republicans tend to support President Trump.
“This decision has been a hard one for our company,” Thomas stated, “but as Trumpism has spread through the Republican Party we’ve started to see an increase in campaigns for Republican candidates that we cannot allow on our platform.”
“Left-wing extremists are pressuring Collins and other senators with all sorts vicious attacks and outrageous bribery games that will backfire,” Judicial Crisis Network’s Chief Counsel and Policy Director Carrie Severino said. Judicial Crisis Network is an advocacy group supporting jurists who back conservative judges.
“Judge Kavanaugh proved in the hearings that he adheres to the Constitution, and has the credentials, temperament, and independence to be another great justice,” Severino added.
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