Watchdog Alleges Cambridge Analytica Violated Election Law

March 26, 2018, 7:20 PM UTC

A non-partisan watchdog group has filed complaints with the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission alleging that the data firm Cambridge Analytica violated U.S. election law by having foreign nationals involved in the decisions of political committees.

U.S. law prohibits foreign nationals from making either direct or indirect contributions to a campaign, making any expenditures, even independently and having any involvement in the decision making of political committees. Common Cause, the same group that filed a complaint in January alleging that the $130,000 payment from the Trump campaign to porn star Stormy Daniels could have been illegal, filed complaints on Monday urging the DOJ and FEC to investigate whether Cambridge Analytica’s involvement with multiple U.S. campaigns in the 2014 and 2016 elections violated this provision.

The complaint was not only filed against Cambridge Analytica, but against SCL Group Limited, the firm affiliated with it, Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica; Nigel Oakes, the director and co-founder of the SCL group; Alexander Taylor, the acting chief executive of Cambridge Analytica; Mark Turnbull, managing director of Cambridge Analytica; Christopher Wylie, who helped found the firm but recently spoke about its operations and mechanisms to the press; and a John Doe. The complaints identifies all of them as foreign nationals.

Cambridge Analytica, a data firm owned and operated primarily by foreign nationals, was paid nearly $6 million by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz’s presidential campaigns in 2016, according to FEC filings. A Super PAC run by John Bolton, who was recently tapped by President Trump to serve as National Security Adviser, paid the firm over $1.1 million over the course of the 2014 and 2016 elections.

A New York Times report earlier this month revealed that the firm had harvested information from 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge, it was also revealed that any contracts the firm negotiated would be overseen by Nix, a situation their lawyer warned could violate the legal provision restricting foreign nationals from certain activities, particularly if he and other foreign executives conducted actual analysis.

“Based on publicly available data and published reports, there is reason to believe that Cambridge Analytica and its foreign national employees and/or contractors participated in the decision making of U.S. political committee clients of Cambridge Analytica – including Donald J. Trump for President Inc., Cruz for President, John Bolton Super PAC and others – regarding expenditures and disbursements for political advertising, research, data analytics, polling, focus groups, message development, marketing, and more,” Paul S. Ryan, the Vice President of Policy & Litigation at Common Cause, wrote in a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein accompanying the complaint.

The complaint also cites an undercover investigation from Britain’s channel 4 into Cambridge Analytica, where Nix is overheard saying the firm was responsible for handling all of the data, analytics, and targeting of the Trump campaign, and a report in the Washington Post that the firm assigned multiple foreigners to help Republican candidates with strategy and messaging in the 2014 midterm elections.

The FEC and DOJ both declined to comment.