Published — March 30, 2018

John Bolton’s super PAC faces heightened scrutiny over ties to Cambridge Analytica

Jose Luis Magana / AP

Ethics groups file complaints alleging foreign interference in U.S. elections


John Bolton’s political committee is facing increasing scrutiny after Washington ethics organizations filed two complaints with federal regulators late this week.

Bolton, President Donald Trump’s pick for national security adviser, has been under fire since a March 20 Center for Public Integrity analysis revealed his super PAC paid embattled voter profiling company Cambridge Analytica more than $1.1 million since 2014 for research.

Today, the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center lodged a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging Bolton’s super PAC violated the Federal Election Campaign Act when it worked with embattled data voter profiling company Cambridge Analytica and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis’ campaign committee in 2014.

Separately, the nonpartisan government watchdogs Democracy 21 and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint Thursday with the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI requesting an investigation into whether the John Bolton Super PAC and Donald J. Trump for President Inc. violated criminal laws.

The two watchdog groups called on the agencies to investigate whether Cambridge Analytica, its U.K.-based parent company SCL Elections, its former CEO and British national Alexander Nix, and its former vice president Stephen Bannon criminally violated the Federal Election Campaign Act by “directly or indirectly participating in the decision-making process of the John Bolton Super PAC and Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.”

>> John Bolton — eyed for Trump post — leads super PAC that employed Cambridge Analytica

Federal laws prohibit foreign nationals from participating in elections in the United States.

“I think this is very serious,” Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, told the Center for Public Integrity. “On the one hand, it goes to the question of whether President Trump’s campaign was involved in criminal violations of the law during the 2016 election that are tied to the ban on foreign interests influencing our elections, and it’s particularly serious in the case of the John Bolton Super PAC because it does raise the question of whether John Bolton himself was involved in any of these activities.”

Common Cause, also a nonpartisan government watchdog group, filed a similar complaint on Monday.

“We are a nation of laws, and our campaign finance laws must be enforced by the FEC and the Justice Department in order to safeguard the integrity of our elections from foreign interference,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “These companies and individuals ignored the law, enriched themselves performing millions of dollars of prohibited work for candidates and committees, and then boasted about the effectiveness of their activities in swaying U.S. elections.”

Bolton’s spokesman, Garrett Marquis, said of the Federal Election Commission filing by the Campaign Legal Center: “The allegations in the complaint are frivolous, and the John Bolton Super PAC expects to be fully vindicated.”

The complaint alleges unlawful coordinated communications during the 2014 election cycle between Cambridge Analytica, Tillis’ campaign and Bolton’s super PAC.

Cambridge Analytica “acted as a conduit to funnel strategic information” to the John Bolton super PAC, which then spent $1.4 million on advertisements supporting Tillis’ candidacy, according to the Campaign Legal Center.

Marquis said the super PAC “never received any strategic information regarding Senator Tillis’s campaign from an employee at Cambridge Analytica or any other person. Moreover, the John Bolton Super PAC received assurances from Cambridge Analytica that its activities were in compliance with all laws and regulations regarding election-related activity.”

Marquis did not immediately address the complaint filed Thursday with the Department of Justice.

A message left with Tillis’ office was not returned Friday afternoon.

Bolton’s super PAC’s website announced late last night that it would cease operations as of March 31.

“Ambassador John Bolton has been appointed as the assistant to the president for national security affairs,” according to an announcement on the super PAC’s website. “The John Bolton Super PAC is suspending all future political activities until further notice as of March 31, 2018. Ambassador Bolton is proud of the tremendous success of his super PAC, which helped elect many conservative leaders who have made strong national security policies a top priority.”

Bolton’s super PAC spent roughly $2.5 million during the 2016 election cycle to support the bids of Republican U.S. Senate candidates, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Bolton previously said his super PAC would spend $1 million boosting Republican Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson in Wisconsin. Nicholson is challenging incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat.

Bolton’s super PAC was among the first political committees to report paying Cambridge Analytica. The New York Times and The Observer of London jointly reported recently that Cambridge Analytica had misused data gleaned from the profiles of tens of millions of Facebook users.

Read more in Money and Democracy

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