A federal appeals court said on Wednesday that Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison can pursue his investigation into Republican online fundraising giant WinRed over an allegedly deceptive marketing scheme that bilked unwitting donors out of untold amounts of cash.
In the ruling, the Eighth Circuit of Appeals rejected WinRed’s argument that federal campaign finance laws preempt state attorneys general from enforcing state-level consumer protection laws, writing that “WinRed errs from the start” and “Minnesota’s deceptive-practices prohibition applies to WinRed and General Ellison can investigate whether WinRed violated it.”
The court also noted that the Federal Election Commission itself had previously acknowledged that issues regarding recurring donation disclaimers were outside its jurisdiction, and had asked Congress to amend election law to, for the first time, create specific requirements regarding donor consent.
Ellison opened his investigation alongside several other states following a 2021 New York Times report that WinRed and its Democratic counterpart, ActBlue—though primarily WinRed and Donald Trump’s fundraising apparatus—had “steered” donors into unwitting contributions, in some cases leading donors, including elderly supporters, to overdraft their accounts. Currently, Minnesota and Connecticut are pursuing investigations into WinRed.
However, the ruling offered WinRed a glimmer of hope. The court said the platform “may not be without recourse” in state court, which can restrict “overbroad” investigations. One judge wrote separately that Ellison has requested “an extraordinary amount of sensitive information from a political organization, some of which has a tenuous relationship, at best, with the AG’s investigation.”
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