Katie Walsh, President Trump’s former White House deputy chief of staff, reportedly provided unflattering information about the president and his administration to Michael Wolff, author of the soon-to-be-published book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Now, according to an Axios report on Thursday, senior Trump White House officials “are debating whether Katie Walsh should be fired from Trump’s main outside group, America First.”
But there’s one major problem. If the report is true, campaign finance law experts say, it would put the Trump administration in clear violation of a provision of the campaign finance law commonly known as McCain-Feingold.
America First Policies is a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organization that aims to support Trump’s “America first” policy agenda. The group’s leadership includes several former staffers of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, including Walsh — a “senior adviser.” But while much of the group’s activity is policy advocacy, it spent nearly $2 million in “independent expenditures” on special federal elections in Alabama and Georgia in 2017.
In a tweet on Thursday morning, Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias noted the White House controlling America First Policies could violate part of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reformt Act:
— Marc E. Elias (@marceelias) January 4, 2018
That law states federal office holders and candidates — and their employees and agents — may not “[d]irectly or indirectly establish, finance, maintain, or control” political organizations that do not adhere to federal campaign finance limits ($5,000 per individual, nothing from corporations). Deciding to fire an employee would, at minimum, appear to be indirect control.
Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, told ThinkProgress in an interview that if the Axios report is correct, it would likely mean the administration is acting illegally.
“If it can be established that President Trump and/or his agents directly or indirectly control the group, then President Trump is in violation of federal campaign finance law,” he said.
The White House and America First Policies did not immediately respond to ThinkProgress inquiries.