Liberal watchdog group says Dean Phillips campaign broke the law

The complaint claims the Phillips presidential campaign illegally coordinated with Pass the Torch USA Inc., a super PAC created by political strategist Steve Schmidt.

Congressman Phillips, a Democrat, launched his presidential campaign in October of 2023. (Dean Phillips/Facebook)

A left-wing watchdog organization alleges that Dean Phillips’ presidential campaign violated the Federal Election Campaign Act by illegally coordinating with a super PAC.

Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog organization that routinely calls for investigations against Republicans, filed their complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) earlier this week.

Congressman Phillips, a Democrat, launched his presidential campaign in October of 2023. Since then, Phillips has struggled to gain support in his effort to challenge President Joe Biden for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination. A recent poll of the New Hampshire Democratic primary had Phillips trailing Biden by 40 points. Other polls have Phillips registering at 2% nationally.

Phillips has represented Minnesota’s Third Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2019.

In their complaint against Phillips’ campaign, the CfA says the Phillips presidential campaign (Dean 24, Inc.) illegally coordinated with Pass the Torch USA Inc., a super PAC created by political strategist Steve Schmidt.

Schmidt, a Republican-turned-Democrat, Lincoln Project co-founder, and former John McCain campaign staffer, was a senior advisor to Phillips in the weeks before the congressman officially announced his run for president. However, Schmidt officially left the presidential campaign in the early weeks of Phillips’ candidacy.

After his departure, Schmidt formed Pass the Torch USA, a super PAC dedicated to supporting Phillips’ election as president of the United States, which then “immediately began disseminating advertisements echoing the messaging that Schmidt
had discussed with the candidate,” the complaint states.

“There could scarcely be a more blatant and egregious example of a presidential campaign illegally coordinating with a Super PAC,” the complaint asserts.

A super PAC is a political action committee that is permitted to “solicit and accept unlimited contributions” and spend those funds in support of a candidate. However, federal law forbids campaigns and super PACs from working together; each organization is not allowed to communicate or coordinate with the other.

The CfA’s complaint alleges that the Phillips campaign and Pass the Torch USA have coordinated by virtue of Schmidt’s earlier presence with the campaign and eventual decision to lead the super PAC. The complaint also alleges that Pass the Torch USA spent $450,000 on political advertisements supporting Phillips which contained similar messaging to the political advertisements produced by Phillips’ campaign.

Regarding the $450,000 worth of advertisements, the complaint says, “the Phillips campaign knowingly accepted those illegal in-kind contributions” and Pass the Torch USA violated the law by falsely reporting “these coordinated communications as independent expenditures.”

While the CfA’s complaint implies the two organizations illegally coordinated, the CfA did not cite any evidence that indicates the Phillips campaign and Pass the Torch USA directly coordinated or communicated since Schmidt left the campaign and created the super PAC, the Phillips campaign argued.

In a statement to the media regarding the complaint, the Phillips campaign said, “The complaint is baseless and does not allege a single specific example of coordination. All it takes is one look at our paid TV ads to see how different the strategies of these two entities are. Regardless, we can say without question that the campaign has at all times complied with the law and has not engaged in any coordination with Pass the Torch, Steve Schmidt, or any other party.”

The CfA’s complaint requested that the FEC “immediately investigate Dean 24, Inc., Pass the Torch USA, Inc. and Steve Schmidt to determine whether the respondents violated” the Federal Election Campaign Act and FEC regulations.


Luke Sprinkel

Luke Sprinkel previously worked as a Legislative Assistant at the Minnesota House of Representatives. He grew up as a Missionary Kid (MK) living in England, Thailand, Tanzania, and the Middle East. Luke graduated from Regent University in 2018.