The Michigan Democratic Party has filed an FEC complaint against Republican Senate candidate John James and a “dark money” group for alleged “illegal coordination.”
The complaint in question revolves around Victoria “Tori” Sachs, the campaign manager for James’ 2018 Senate campaign and the founding director of Better Future Michigan, a nonprofit that is running negative ads about Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI).
As a 501(c)(4), the group is considered a “dark money” organization, which means it is not required to disclose its donors and can receive unlimited contributions.
According to the complaint, Sachs violated the FEC’s 120-day “cooling off period,” which requires former campaign staffers to wait at least 120 days before joining an independent organization in support of their candidate.
Sachs was also working as a paid consultant for James’ current campaign until May 31, 2019 – allegedly the day before she was hired as the founding executive director of Better Future Michigan.
“Better Future Michigan’s founding executive director was Tori Sachs, John James’ former campaign manager, who was working for the James campaign just weeks before establishing Better Future Michigan. It is nearly impossible to believe that Ms. Sachs left the James campaign and immediately formed a nonprofit organization dedicated to attacking James’ political opponent on her own accord and not as an agent of James himself,” the complaint alleges.
Sachs’ attorneys wrote to Michigan Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes in January “regarding false and defamatory statements published by agents” of the party. Their letter came in response to an initial FEC complaint filed by End Citizens United against the James campaign and promoted by Michigan Democratic Party staffers.
“While Mrs. Sachs appreciates diversity of opinion and First Amendment protections for opinion, the publication of a false statement of fact alleging that Mrs. Sachs violated FEC coordination laws crosses the line from opinion to defamation because it both falsely and maliciously accuses another of a crime, which constitute libel per se,” her attorneys wrote, demanding that the Michigan Democratic Party “cease and desist from publishing provably false lies about Mrs. Sachs.”
They claimed that Better Future Michigan “has not run any advertisements advocating for or against any political candidates.”
Indeed, a January article from OpenSecrets News, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics, said that the FEC “only considers that cooling-off period when the closely tied outside group spends on airtime mentioning the candidate during the window before an election or if the messaging includes magic words such as ‘vote against’ or ‘defeat.’”
“Better Future Michigan circumvents these restrictions by instead attacking Peters over the issue of healthcare, highlighting just how easily groups can avoid coordination rules,” the article states.
The Democratic Party responded to Sachs’ attorneys by claiming she “inadvertently revealed that she may have also illegally established the group as an agent of John James,” since she was hired as the executive director of Better Future Michigan prior to its incorporation and “mere days” after she stopped working for the James campaign.
“John James’ top political aide just admitted to the same type of wrongdoing she was attempting to deny,” Michigan Democratic Party spokesperson Elena Kuhn said in a statement.
“Tori Sachs’ admission makes clear that she did not just allegedly violate the FEC’s 120-day cooling off period – she may have also broken campaign finance law by setting up this shady organization on behalf of James,” the statement continued. “As James spends more time with out-of-state GOP mega-donors than talking to Michigan voters, the potentially illegal formation of this dark money group raises serious concerns about James’ ethical conduct and attempts to buy this U.S. Senate seat.”
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