FBI Launches 2020 Investigations into Political Action Committees (PACs)
Political Action Committees and Their Members are Being Targeted in Federal Public Corruption Investigations
Political action committees have long faced public criticism for their role in the federal election system. Complaints of “legalized public corruption” and funneling “dark money” to political candidates have swirled for decades. Of course, these types of complaints are largely based on public misconceptions about PACs, and campaign reform laws enacted in the 1970s were, in part, designed to facilitate the rise of PACs in the federal campaign and election processes.
Despite the legitimate, important, and well-established role PACs play in our democracy, concerns and allegations of undue influence and corruption continue to plague these organizations and their members. Over the past several years, PACs supporting candidates for both major parties have faced federal scrutiny, and some PAC members and organizers have faced federal criminal prosecution. In most cases, these cases have targeted allegations of public corruption in some form, whether through violations of federal campaign finance laws or outright bribery of political candidates and current elected officials.
Potential Allegations in Federal Public Corruption Investigations Targeting Political Action Committees
In the current wave of federal investigations targeting political action committees, it appears that a number of federal civil and criminal allegations are possible. Our federal defense lawyers are available to represent PAC organizers and members who are under investigation and facing prosecution based on allegations including (but not limited to):
1. Violations of 18 U.S.C. Section 201 (Bribery of Public Officials)
Section 201 of Chapter 18 of the U.S. Code (18 U.S.C. § 201) establishes the offense of public bribery. PAC members, organizers, and executives targeted by the FBI and the DOJ may be at risk for prosecution under this statute, as it imposes criminal sanctions for:
“Whoever . . . (1) directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official or person who has been selected to be a public official, or offers or promises any public official or any person who has been selected to be a public official to give anything of value to any other person or entity, with intent . . . (A) to influence any official act; or (B) to influence such public official or person who has been selected to be a public official to commit or aid in committing, or collude in, or allow, any fraud, or make opportunity for the commission of any fraud, on the United States; or (C) to induce such public official or such person who has been selected to be a public official to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such official or person.”
Penalties for violating 18 U.S.C. Section 201 include up to 15 years of federal imprisonment and fines as determined by statute or up to three times the amount of the bribe, whichever is greater.
2. Violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and Other Federal Campaign Finance Laws
Federal campaign finance laws present perhaps the biggest risks for PACs and their personnel. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has exclusive jurisdiction over civil enforcement of these laws, while the DOJ can step in and prosecute criminal cases under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and other relevant statutes, including:
- The Presidential Election Campaign Funding Act (26 U.S.C. Sections 9001-9012)
- The Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account Act (26 U.S.C. Sections 9031-9042)
- 18 U.S.C. Section 1001 and 1002 (which criminalize he willful submission of false information to the FEC)
- 18 US.C. Section 371 (which imposes criminal penalties for participation in a conspiracy to defraud the United States)
Civil and criminal fines under these statutes vary widely, and prison sentences for campaign finance law violations can range anywhere from years to decades of incarceration.
3. Violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA)
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) imposes criminal penalties for the payment of bribes that are intended to allow for the exertion of influence over foreign elected officials and political appointees. For political action committees supporting U.S. federal political candidates, risks can arise under the FCPA when these committees directly or indirectly provide financial support to foreign political candidates as well.
Criminal penalties under the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA include statutory fines and up to five years of federal imprisonment.
4. Civil and Criminal Fraud
FBI investigations targeting political action committees can also target general allegations of civil and criminal fraud. For example, under 18 U.S.C. Section 1519, PAC employees and executives can face statutory fines and up to 20 years of federal imprisonment for, “knowingly . . . conceal[ing], cover[ing] up, falsif[ying], or mak[ing] a false entry in any record [or] document . . . with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States.” Many other allegations in the realm of public corruption can be prosecuted under various federal fraud statutes as well, and the penalties under these statutes can be equally severe.
5. Conspiracy to Engage in Fraudulent or Corrupt Activities
As referenced above, conspiracy to commit campaign finance law violations is an offense that is highly likely to be implicated in the FBI’s ongoing investigations. However, the federal criminal conspiracy statute (18 U.S.C. Section 371), is not exclusive to federal campaign finance matters. Rather, it is a statute of general applicability, and PAC members and officials can face statutory fines and up to five years in prison based on allegations of, “conspir[ing] either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, [if] one or more of such persons do[es] any act to effect the object of the conspiracy.” This includes (but is not limited to) conspiracy to commit or engage in:
- Public corruption
- FECA or FCPA violations
- Other federal campaign law violations
- Criminal fraud
6. Tax Evasion
While the DOJ has been using the federal tax evasion statute to crack down “scam PACs,” legitimate political action committees are at risk for being prosecuted for tax crimes following FBI investigations as well. When FBI agents conduct raids to seize documents and demand access to financial records through other means, it is a near certainty that PACs’ accounting practices will be closely scrutinized to determine whether they have evaded (or assisted others in evading) their federal tax obligations.
7. Mail Fraud, Wire Fraud, Money Laundering, and Other Crimes
In many cases, FBI investigations targeting public corruption, campaign finance law violations, and other substantive offenses will lead to criminal prosecutions for mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and other similar types of crimes. The laws that define these crimes are extremely broad, and this allows the DOJ to prosecute under a wide range of circumstances in which indictments for more-specific crimes are unlikely to stick. Similar to the other statutes discussed above, violations of these laws carry substantial fines and long terms of federal imprisonment.
About Oberheiden, P.C. | Nationwide Federal Defense Counsel
Oberheiden, P.C. is a federal defense law firm that represents clients nationwide in civil and criminal matters – including FBI investigations. Our team consists of career defense lawyers, former DOJ prosecutors, former FBI Special Agents, and other professionals who bring decades of experience to defending clients accused of public corruption and other white-collar federal offenses. If your PAC is under investigation by the FBI – or if you personally are being investigated – it is imperative that you engage defense counsel immediately. Our lawyers are available 24/7 and can begin advising you right away. The services we offer to political action committees include:
- Immediate Intervention in the FBI’s Investigation – Once you contact us, our senior attorneys will immediately make contact with the FBI, determine the current status of the investigation, and advise you regarding what you need to do next.
- Comprehensive (and Privileged) Assessment of All Possible Allegations – Our senior attorneys and former federal agents will conduct a confidential, attorney-client privileged assessment of your PAC’s activities in order to assess all possible civil and criminal allegations.
- Strategic Defense Formulation and Execution – After conducting our assessment, we will develop a comprehensive defense strategy that specifically targets the evidence the FBI has collected and any flaws or oversights in its investigative methods.
- 24/7 Access to Our Senior Attorneys and Former Federal Agents – Throughout the course of our representation, you will have 24/7 access to our senior attorneys and former federal agents by phone, text, and email.
- Focus on Pre–Charge Resolution – Regardless of the circumstances at hand, we will focus our efforts on securing a favorable (and confidential) pre-charge resolution that fully protects you and your PAC.
Speak with a Federal Defense Lawyer at Oberheiden, P.C.
Do you work for a PAC that is under investigation by the FBI? If so, you should seek legal counsel from an experienced political law firm promptly. To speak with a federal defense lawyer at Oberheiden, P.C. in confidence, call 888-680-1745 or request a free initial consultation online now.
Dr. Nick Oberheiden, founder of Oberheiden P.C., focuses his litigation practice on white-collar criminal defense, government investigations, SEC & FCPA enforcement, and commercial litigation.