Following the release of a secretly recorded conversation which implied that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee may have violated campaign finance laws by offering special assistance to their preferred candidate, a government ethics watchdog filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission on Tuesday.
The secretly recorded conversation occurred in December 2017 between House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Levi Tillemann, a Democrat candidate for the 6th Congressional District in Colorado. Tillemann consented to have the audio published by the Intercept in April after some names and private information were redacted, The Washington Free Beacon reported.
During the conversation, Hoyer confirmed to Tillemann that some key players in the Democratic party preferred that Army veteran and corporate lawyer Jason Crow become the party’s nominee in the district.
The Intercept story included a quote from David Aarestad, who, by that time, had withdrawn from the same race.
“But, they [the DCCC] made polling data available to Crow that they did not make available to me,” Aarestad said. “They made other resources available to Crow that they did not make available to me, such as email lists for fundraising purposes.”
In the lawsuit filed on Tuesday, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust alleged that the polling data and email lists were in-kind contributions that appear not to have been reported, but should have been.
“Candidate reporting requirements exist to prevent corruption and ensure transparency in our elections, which is something the DCCC showed a blatant disregard for in this case,” Kendra Arnold, FACT’s executive director, said in a statement. “What’s equally disturbing is that this type of Machiavellian behavior has been endorsed by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.”
A crucial component of the allegation involves determining the likely hard-dollar value of the email lists and polling data. The lawsuit contends that that, “based upon the industry standard, the value of the polling information and mailing lists likely exceeded the $5,000 limit on in-kind contributions.”
In the audio recording, Hoyer confirms that Crow was the favored candidate.
“Yeah, I’m for Crow. I am for Crow because a judgment was made very early on. I didn’t know Crow. I didn’t participate in the decision. But a decision was made early on by the Colorado delegation,” Hoyer said, referencing the three House Democrats elected from Colorado.
Tillemann responded by saying, “So your position is, a decision was made very early on before voters had a say, and that’s fine because the DCCC knows better than the voters of the 6th Congressional District, and we should line up behind that candidate?”
“That’s certainly a consequence of our decision,” said Hoyer.
The publication of the conversation led to backlash from more progressive sectors of the Democratic party, which claimed that the DCCC was playing favorites.
When asked about the recording, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, “In terms of candidates and campaigns, I don’t see anything inappropriate in what Mr. Hoyer was engaged in—a conversation about the realities of life in the race as to who can make the general election.”
The race for Colorado’s 6th District is expected to most competitive in the country. The seat is currently held by Republican Mike Coffman, a former Marine and state treasurer who is now in his fifth term. Coffman has defeated formidable opponents in the last two elections, including a former speaker of the Colorado House and president of the state Senate.