FEC finds ‘reason to believe’ Sen. Thom Tillis and John Bolton violated the ‘foreign national ban’ by working with British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and former National Security Advisor John Bolton.
Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and former National Security Advisor John Bolton.
  • The FEC found reason to believe Sen. Tillis and John Bolton violated laws banning foreigners from US elections.
  • British firm Cambridge Analytica was heavily involved in strategy for both Republicans' campaigns.
  • But the commission can't do anything about it because the statue of limitations expired.

The Federal Election Commission found reason to believe in 2019 that both Sen. Thom Tillis and former National Security Advisor John Bolton violated federal laws against foreign interference in US elections by working with now-defunct British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica in 2014.

But the commission, which found that the North Carolina Republican Party and a perennial Republican candidate in Oregon also ran afoul of the same laws, does not appear to be doing anything about it, since the five-year statute of limitations for both cases has now expired and no criminal referrals appear to have been made.

"Once again, the Commission has failed to take meaningful enforcement action on complaints alleging serious violations of the foreign national ban," wrote Commissioners Shana Broussard and Ellen Weintraub in a statement of reasons. "Despite the Commission's previous commitment to prioritizing foreign national matters, that commitment appears in retrospect to have been lip service as we continue to skirt our obligations to the American people."

The two commissioners also said that former President Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, both of whom worked with the British firm during their 2016 presidential campaigns, may have violated the same laws as well, but that two previous Republican commissioners - Matthew Petersen and Caroline Hunter - did not wish to take action.

"They were willing to move forward only on the claims that were already imperiled under the statute of limitations, setting the Commission up for failure," the pair wrote, referring to the claims against Bolton and Tillis.

"Unfortunately, there is no public explanation of why they would not move forward on the later allegations [against Trump and Cruz]," they continue. "Instead, the American people are left in the dark as to why the Commission was unable to muster the necessary four votes to pursue these serious allegations of foreign intervention in the 2016 election."

Cambridge Analytica's work with Tillis, Bolton, Cruz, and Trump

The saga began in March 2018 as the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal - in which personal data from over 87 million Facebook users was improperly obtained by the firm - came to a head.

Watchdog organization Common Cause filed a complaint against Cambridge Analytica itself, while the Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint against John Bolton's super PAC. Two months thereafter, the chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party filed a complaint against Sen. Tillis and the Republican Party. Another complaint against the Trump campaign by the Resistance Committee Action Fund is also included in the case.

Each complaint alleging violations of the foreign nationals ban was broadly similar, alleging that foreign nationals - in this case, British employees of Cambridge Analytica - had taken on "significantly greater roles in the campaigns" and that foreign nationals "participated in, and in some instances directed, the Committees' election-related activities," according to the statement of reasons.

A 2018 report by the Center for Public Integrity detailed the extent of Bolton's coordination with the British firm. Additionally, the Campaign Legal Center's complaint alleged that Bolton's super PAC had engaged in illegal coordinated activity with the Tillis campaign and the North Carolina Republican Party during the former's 2014 campaign.

The commission voted in July of 2019 and found reason to believe that Tillis, Bolton, the North Carolina GOP, and even Oregon congressional candidate Art Robinson had all violated the foreign nationals ban, initiating an investigation by the commission. But then, the FEC lost a quorum for the rest of that year and most of 2020, imperiling the body's work and resulting in the eventual lapse of the statute of limitations on the 2014-era cases.

The FEC is made up of six commissioners, and the commission loses quorum when there are fewer than four commissioners. In 2019, then-vice chairman Matthew Petersen resigned, bringing the commission down to three.

"Unfortunately, the Office of General Counsel's investigation of the 2014 activity never gained traction," Broussard and Weintraub wrote.

The commission voted on September 30 of this year to close the file, apparently ending the matter before the FEC. Ann Ravel, a former Democratic FEC commissioner, told Insider that it was unlikely that any criminal referral had been made to the Department of Justice, as that would have been noted in the documents made public this week.

"It's unlikely that they would if they failed to take any action on this case," she said. "Making a referral to the Department of Justice also takes four votes."

Tillis, Cruz, the Trump campaign, and a representative for Bolton did not respond to Insider's requests for comment.

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