ADLF FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST SEAN HANNITY FOR POTENTIAL ILLEGAL COORDINATION AND IN-KIND CONTRIBUTION TO THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN

ADLF HIGHLIGHTS FLIGHT FOR GINGRICH, PROMOTIONAL TV EXPOSURE, AND SERVING IN AN ADVISORY ROLE

The American Democracy Legal Fund has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Donald Trump, Donald J. Trump for President, Sean Hannity and Twenty-First Century Fox for violating the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.

During this election cycle, Mr. Hannity has used his eponymous prime-time cable show “to blare Mr. Trump’s message relentlessly—giving Mr. Trump the kind of promotional television exposure even a billionaire can’t afford for long.” But that’s only the beginning.

The Trump campaign also received an in-kind contribution from Sean Hannity in excess of federal contribution limits in the form of a flight for Newt Gingrich to meet Donald Trump while he was a prospective Vice Presidential candidatea flight the Trump campaign has not reimbursed.

Additionally, Mr. Hannity may be using Fox News Channel resources to offer the Trump campaign “suggestions on strategy and messaging,” which would be in violation of the federal prohibition on corporate campaign contributions.

ADLF is requesting that the Commission act immediately to investigate the full scope of these violations, seek the appropriate financial penalties, and require the Trump campaign to reimburse the necessary persons for their contributions and report these expenses according to law.

The complaint is available below and in full with exhibits here. The American Democracy Legal Fund holds candidates for office accountable for possible ethics and/or legal violations. It is run by Brad Woodhouse.

BEFORE THE FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION

American Democracy Legal Fund
455 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001

Complainant,

v.

Donald J. Trump

725 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10022

Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.

725 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10022

 

Timothy Jost, Treasurer

Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.

725 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10022

 

Sean Hannity

1211 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10036

 

Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc.

1211 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10036

 

Respondents.

COMPLAINT

Complainant files this complaint with the Federal Election Commission (the “FEC” or “Commission”) under 52 U.S.C. § 30109(a)(1) against Mr. Donald J. Trump (“Trump”), Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. (“the Trump campaign”), the Trump campaign’s treasurer Timothy Jost, in his official capacity (“Jost”), Sean Hannity, and Fox Entertainment Group, Inc. (collectively, “Respondents”). The Trump campaign received an in-kind contribution from Sean Hannity in excess of federal contribution limits, and Mr. Hannity may be using Fox News Channel resources to provide advice to the Trump campaign in violation of the federal prohibition on corporate campaign contributions. The Commission should act immediately to investigate the full scope of these violations, seek the appropriate financial penalties, and require the Trump campaign to reimburse the necessary persons for their contributions and report these expenses according to law.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Donald J. Trump is the Republican nominee for President. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. is his campaign committee, and Timothy Jost is the committee’s treasurer. Sean Hannity is employed by Fox News Channel, which is owned by 21st Century Fox, a Delaware corporation. During this election cycle, Mr. Hannity has used his eponymous prime-time cable show “to blare Mr. Trump’s message relentlessly—giving Mr. Trump the kind of promotional television exposure even a billionaire can’t afford for long.”

On July 13, 2016, Newt Gingrich, who was then in the running to be the Republican Vice Presidential nominee, flew to Indianapolis to meet with Donald Trump on a private jet. That jet was provided by Sean Hannity. The Trump campaign has not reimbursed Mr. Hannity for the use of the jet.

In addition to providing free air travel to one of Mr. Trump’s vice presidential contenders, Mr. Hannity has been serving in an advisory role, offering the Trump campaign “suggestions on strategy and messaging.”

LEGAL ANALYSIS

Sean Hannity and the Trump campaign violated federal contribution limits when Mr. Hannity provided and the campaign accepted free private jet travel for one of Mr. Trump’s vice presidential contenders.

Under federal law, no person may contribute more than $2,700 to a presidential campaign. That limit includes in-kind contributions. Here, Mr. Hannity provided the Trump campaign with a free private jet trip for one of Mr. Trump’s vice presidential contenders to attend a meeting with Mr. Trump. The Trump campaign did not reimburse Mr. Hannity for the cost of the trip. It is very likely that the value of this private jet trip exceeded the $2,700 contribution limit.

While the press enjoy a broad exemption from restrictions on corporate contributions, that exemption is not unlimited. In particular, the press exemption does not cover activities that take place off-the-air and are not part of a media company’s normal press functions. Mr. Hannity’s donation of a free trip on a private plane is not covered by the press exemption. In fact, Mr. Hannity disavowed any connection between the private plane trip and his television show. On Twitter, he commented on inquiries about the private plane trip, “I have known Newt Gingrich since 1990 (I emceed his event the night the [sic] became Speaker of the House in 1994) he has been a long term, very dear friend of mine and is a private citizen. Whatever favors I do for my friends is my business.” Because Mr. Hannity claims that the private plane trip was his purely private business and not part of any of Fox News Channel’s press activities, it does not fall under the press exemption. Therefore, Mr. Hannity likely gave and the Trump campaign likely accepted an excessive contribution.

The Commission should investigate whether Mr. Hannity is improperly using Fox News Channel’s corporate resources in his role as an advisor to the Trump campaign.

On top of his private plane contribution, Mr. Hannity has taken on an advisory role with the Trump campaign, offering “suggestions on strategy and messaging.” Federal law prohibits corporations from contributing to federal campaigns, and that prohibition includes in-kind contributions. Under Commission regulations, an impermissible corporate campaign contribution results when a volunteer makes more than “occasional, isolated, or incidental use” of corporate facilities in service of a campaign. Any individual volunteer activity that “does not exceed one hour per week or four hours per month” is considered incidental and therefore is not an impermissible corporate campaign contribution. Here, Mr. Hannity is very likely using corporate resources in order to research and provide “suggestions on strategy and messaging” to the Trump campaign. Given the depth of his commitment to the Trump campaign (he’s been called “Mr. Trump’s biggest media booster”), it is likely that he has made more-than-incidental use of corporate resources on Mr. Trump’s behalf.

Like the private jet trip, Mr. Hannity’s private conversations to advise the Trump campaign, and the resources devoted to research that supports that advice, are not part of Fox News Channel’s normal press activities. The press exemption therefore does not apply to Mr. Hannity’s role as a campaign advisor. To the extent that Mr. Hannity is making more-than-incidental use of Fox News Channel resources to provide that strategic advice, Twenty-First Century Fox has made an impermissible corporate contribution to the Trump campaign.

REQUESTED ACTION

As we have shown, there is a strong likelihood that Respondents have violated the Federal Elections Campaign Act. We respectfully request that the Commission investigate these likely violations, including whether they were knowing or willful. We also request that Respondents be fined the maximum amount permitted by law.