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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

FEC drops case over 'dark money' group that supported Rubio's presidential run

A dissenting opinion from two FEC commissioners

A dissenting opinion from two FEC commissioners



A “dark money” group that backed Marco Rubio’s presidential run, drawing allegations it violated law, will not face further FEC scrutiny after the commission deadlocked on a vote.

Two FEC commissioners in the 3-3 vote faulted the decision. “By failing to further investigate CSP, the Commission has again done nothing to address dark money. However, it has tacitly permitted the proliferation of groups that exist for political purposes yet are not transparent, as the law requires,” reads a statement of reasons from Ann Ravel and Ellen Weintraub that was published Thursday.

Conservative Solutions Project raised millions of dollars from unidentified donors — $13.5 million from one person alone — and ran advertising promoting Rubio in early primary states. That led to complaints from watchdog groups and a liberal group that CSP was set up exclusively for Rubio, violating tax regulations that “social welfare groups” must promote “the common good and general welfare of the people of the community as a whole.”

The pro-Rubio group broke ground in elections, just as Jeb Bush did by raising tens of millions for his Right to Rise super PAC before becoming an official presidential candidates.

There were ample ties between Rubio’s campaign team and Conservative Solutions Project, as well as a super PAC that boosted the candidate. CSP ran a number of ads that featured Rubio. One also showed Sen. Mike Lee but Rubio was the clear focus.

“No reasonable person could conclude that the ads were intended as anything other than advocacy on behalf of Rubio’s election,” the FEC commissioners wrote.

Robert Maguire, director of dark money data for OpenSecrets, noted on Twitter today that “CSP was so active, so early, that by late 2015, 75% of pro-Rubio ads were run by the c4, NOT BY RUBIO'S CAMPAIGN.”

But the FEC will not continue a probe after the panel deadlocked, as is commonly the case. The decision was made last month but just now became public. The complaint before the FEC was filed by the liberal American Democracy Legal Fund.

We have asked Conservative Solutions Project for comment.

Last year, Rubio said the identity of the $13.5 million donor was “irrelevant.”

[Last modified: Friday, January 13, 2017 11:54am]


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