Under the Dome

John Bolton’s pro-Tillis spending in 2014 violated election laws, complaint claims

In this Feb. 24, 2017, file photo, John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
In this Feb. 24, 2017, file photo, John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference. AP

A group headed by the man President Donald Trump has picked as his next national security adviser violated federal election law in its production of pro-Thom Tillis ads during the 2014 election, a federal complaint filed Thursday alleges.

The Campaign Legal Center, in its complaint to the Federal Election Commission, claims that John Bolton’s Super PAC made “illegal, excessive and unreported in-kind contributions” to Tillis’ successful Senate campaign in North Carolina and/or the North Carolina Republican Party by “financing coordinated communications through the use of a common vendor, Cambridge Analytica.”

In its complaint, the Washington-based legal center said data firm Cambridge Analytica used information from its work with Tillis and the North Carolina Republican Party to develop ads for Bolton’s super political action committee. Neither the Tillis campaign nor the North Carolina GOP is listed as a defendant in the complaint.

The Tillis campaign, the North Carolina GOP and the Bolton super PAC all hired Cambridge during the 2014 campaign.

Cambridge Analytica faces accusations that it obtained data from more than 50 million Facebook users through a third-party vendor in violation of Facebook policies, as first reported by The New York Times. Trump’s campaign employed Cambridge Analytica and paid the company nearly $6 million during the 2016 campaign cycle.

Cambridge Analytica is now banned from Facebook, which is under pressure in the United States and Europe for how it protects users’ data.

The Campaign Legal Center cites “a Cambridge Analytica staffer’s online portfolio and other published reports” as reason to believe the super PAC made coordinated communications through the use of a “common vendor.”

The John Bolton Super PAC released a statement Thursday night, saying it was “unaware of any allegations of impropriety by Cambridge Analytica until recent press reports.” In an updated statement released Friday, the super PAC denied the allegations made in the complaint.

“The allegations in the complaint are frivolous, and the John Bolton Super PAC expects to be fully vindicated. There was no coordination, direct or indirect, between the John Bolton Super PAC and the Tillis campaign, and the John Bolton Super PAC did not discuss any election-related, or any other topics, with the individuals named in the complaint. The John Bolton Super PAC acted independently of both federal and state campaigns, and any allegation to the contrary is baseless.

“In fact, the John Bolton 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. This complaint is yet another attempt to use the guise of the law to score political points without any basis in reality.”

Tim Glister, a former employee of SCL, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, wrote on his website that he spent three months in North Carolina, helping Tillis’ campaign create highly targeted advertising. On the same site, he posted a video of a Bolton ad in support of Tillis.

His page has been changed, removing the Bolton ad and replacing the language about Tillis’ campaign with more generic language — “helped the local party create a raft of communications.”

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow first reported on the Campaign Legal Center complaint and the website, and said the site was changed after her producers contacted Glister.

Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, said there were safeguards that kept a firewall between data sets to keep groups from sharing the same data.

“It’s set up in ways that could not be breached,” Woodhouse said earlier this week.

But the complaint says “the evidence indicates that any such firewall was ignored in this instance.”

The 2014 campaign

In 2014, the Tillis campaign paid Cambridge Analytica $30,000 as Tillis worked to unseat Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, and paid another $100,000 in 2015. The campaign said the 2015 payments were a “win bonus.” The North Carolina GOP paid the data firm $150,000 in 2014 and another $65,000 in 2015.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican, also paid the company $15,000 in 2014.

Bolton, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George H.W. Bush, will become Trump’s national security adviser on April 9, replacing H.R. McMaster.

In 2014 and 2015, Bolton was supporting Republican candidates, including Tillis, and pushing for tougher national security positions through his super PAC. The John Bolton Super PAC paid Cambridge Analytica $341,025 in 2014. In 2015, Bolton paid the company $811,224.

The Bolton super PAC reported more than $1.3 million in independent spending in support of Tillis.

Those money totals come from the FEC.

Super PACs, or independent expenditure-only committees, may raise and spend unlimited sums for or against political candidates, but they are prohibited from donating directly to candidates and they may not coordinate with candidates. The Campaign Legal Center said Bolton’s actions violated the law.

In the complaint, the Campaign Legal Center says “there is reason to believe” that Cambridge Analytica used or conveyed information about the NC GOP and/or the Tillis’ campaign’s “plans, projects, activities or needs.”

McClatchy attempted to contact Glister this week without success.

Bloomberg reported in 2015 that Glister worked for the state Republican party to help elect Tillis. “I was English enough to be an entertaining curiosity,” Glister said at the time.

Woodhouse, of the NCGOP, denied that any foreign nationals worked for the state party in 2014. Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie described foreign nationals working in North Carolina to multiple outlets.

“We didn’t do it. We didn’t do it and if we had it wouldn’t be illegal,” Woodhouse said of allegations that foreign workers employed by Cambridge Analytica worked in the Raleigh offices during the 2014 election cycle.

 

Bolton supported Republican Senate candidates in North Carolina, Arkansas and New Hampshire during the 2014 cycle. Tillis and Tom Cotton of Arkansas won their races, while Scott Brown lost in New Hampshire.

According to a post-2014 election analysis done by Cambridge Analytica, Bolton’s super PAC had three objectives during the cycle, the Washington Post reported: elect Republican candidates in those three states, raise the issue of national security and raise his profile.

Bolton’s super PAC also produced anti-Deborah Ross ads in 2016. Ross, a Democrat, was running against incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Burr.

Due to Bolton’s appointment, the Bolton super PAC said on its website it “is suspending all future political activities until further notice as of March 31.”

“Bolton is proud of the tremendous success of his super PAC, which helped elect many conservative leaders who have made strong national security politices a top priority.”

Brian Murphy: 202-383-6089, @MurphinDC

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