A super PAC bankrolled by tech magnate Peter Thiel illegally provided resources to J.D. Vance’s U.S. Senate campaign to propel him to victory in the GOP primary, a new complaint alleges.
Two watchdog groups filed the complaint with the Federal Election Commission on Monday, claiming Protect Ohio Values used a Medium website to circumvent rules that prevent coordination between campaigns and super PACs. With Thiel’s backing, Protect Ohio Values spent millions to boost Vance in the contentious primary contest.
The website at the center of the complaint was revealed by Politico on the day of the primary. The super PAC published information there for months, highlighting polls, research, video b-roll and other materials. There was even a document detailing Vance’s campaign vulnerabilities, but it was removed after Politico published its story.
The complaint contends that vision resulted in lawbreaking.
“This abuse is perhaps one of the clearest and most flagrant examples of a candidate and a super PAC skirting campaign finance laws,” said Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United, one of the groups that filed the complaint.
Vance PAC calls complaint ‘meritless’
Federal law allows super PACs to spend unlimited sums on independent expenditures that don’t go to candidates. Direct contributions to candidates’ campaigns are capped at $2,900 per election for an individual and $5,000 for PACs.
In their complaint, End Citizens United and the Campaign Legal Center say the materials on the Medium website were essentially contributions from Protect Ohio Values that went unchecked.
The super PAC disagrees.
“It’s not surprising that the press learned about this meritless complaint by a Democrat dark money group and its allies before we did,” said Luke Thompson, a GOP strategist who ran Protect Ohio Values. “This pathetic fundraising ploy by some of D.C.’s biggest hypocrites will come to nothing because we followed all applicable laws.”
End Citizens United advocates for Democratic candidates with the goal of reforming campaign finance laws. The Campaign Legal Center is also considered a left-leaning organization, although one of its founders worked on GOP Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaigns.
The groups repeatedly cited information published on Medium as part of their claim:
- Protect Ohio Values helped recruit staff for Vance and followed him around to shoot b-roll for his campaign announcement.
- The campaign and super PAC hired the same data science company, allowing them to access each other’s information.
- A February post suggested ad language on border security that closely mirrored what Vance said in a television ad two months later.
A spokeswoman for Vance did not respond to a request for comment.
Complainants also argued that the website was difficult to find and intended only for Vance’s campaign. However, Politico reported that former state treasurer Josh Mandel’s U.S. Senate campaign discovered it months ago and combed it for information.
Thompson disputed that the website was hidden. While they did not share the website with Vance’s campaign, he said, they made staff members for the super PAC’s donors aware of it.
Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.