With the WikiLeaks email scandal already causing the resignation of Democrat Party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Hillary Clinton and the Democrat Party may now face legal risk regarding violations of campaign finance guidelines.
The June 22 WikiLeaks disclosure of 19,252 hacked emails appears to show a pattern of senior officers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) scheming and colluding to favor Hillary Clinton and oppose Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during the 2016 Democrat primaries and caucuses. The emails include DNC plans to commit “dirty tricks,” spread false rumors, and coordinate activities directly with the Clinton campaign.
DNC officers earn annual salaries of $91,000 to $98,000 and staff members earn $29,000 and $96,000 a year, according to the Glassdoor website. Such apparent involvement by DNC employees in direct support of Clinton’s political campaign may have represented hundreds of thousands of dollars of value received.
Hillary Clinton fully understands the acute legal risk, after she had her political start in the summer of 1971 working on a subcommittee for Democrat Senator Walter Mondale in Washington, D.C. Clinton leveraged those contacts to obtain a job in the spring of 1974 as a 26 year-old lawyer who helped draw up President Nixon’s articles of impeachment for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress.
Questions about Nixon’s election activities led to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971,which instituted stringent disclosure requirements for federal candidates, political parties and political action committees.
FECA amendments in 1974, following Nixon’s resignation, set very strict limits on contributions by individuals, political parties and PACs. The amendments also established an “independent agency” called the Federal Election Commission to administer campaign and party disclosures statutes, which include U.S. Code 52 USC 30109, that includes civil fines of “up to 300 percent” of illegal contributions, and criminal penalties of being “imprisoned for not more than 5 years” for knowingly and willfully committing a violation of any provision of the Act.
The FECA was further tightened with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which banned national parties from raising or spending non-federal funds, called “soft money,” which are contributions to a political party that are not described as going to a particular candidate, thus avoiding various legal limitations.
The FEC restricts individuals to contributions of up to $2,700, for each candidate, per election cycle; $5,000 for each Political Action Committee; $33,400 for a national committee per year; and $100,200 for national party committee accounts per year.
The current federal election campaign laws require strict separation between a political party and a candidate. The party cannot 1) coordinate with candidates and 2) use party soft money funds raised for “party building activities,” such as efforts to “get-out-the-vote” and generic “issue advertising” to promote a particular candidate.
The WikiLeaks disclosures suggest a deep “coordination” between the DNC and the Clinton campaign, but there is no direct evidence in the initial dump of hacked emails that there were any “coordinated expenditures” between the DNC and Clinton. It is possible, however, that the use of DNC staff man-hours and equipment to aid one candidate in the context of a primary election could have violated the soft-money expenditure ban.
The DNC and Clinton campaign may also be at risk for violating the campaign finance laws of the 50 states. In the 27 states with Republican Attorneys Generals, the DNC and Clinton probably cannot benefit from political loyalties — but most state campaign finance laws are very lax.
WikiLeaks has stated that its hacker source, “Guccifer 2.0,” will soon release the emails that were not disclosed by Clinton to the State Department. Gussifer 2.0 also promises, “The main part of the [DNC] papers, thousands of files and mails, I gave to WikiLeaks. They will publish them soon.”