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Appeals court rejects WinRed’s effort to halt Minnesota AG’s probe into its fundraising tactics

<i>Abbie Parr/AP/FILE</i><br/>Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison delivers a speech during his inauguration for his second term on January 2 in St. Paul
Abbie Parr/AP/FILE
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison delivers a speech during his inauguration for his second term on January 2 in St. Paul

By Eric Bradner, CNN

The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against WinRed in its effort to block subpoenas from Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office in an investigation into whether the GOP donation processing website violated the state’s consumer protection law.

Ellison, a Democrat, is investigating WinRed’s pre-checked recurring donation boxes that enroll donors in monthly or weekly contributions to the candidate or committee they are supporting, unless they locate and un-check those recurring donation boxes.

A federal judge last year dismissed WinRed’s lawsuit seeking to halt inquiries by the attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, Maryland and Minnesota. WinRed appealed only the Minnesota ruling, arguing that its activities are governed by federal campaign finance law, not any state consumer protection laws the attorneys general sought to enforce.

The appeals court rejected that argument in an opinion issued Tuesday, ruling that federal campaign finance laws don’t bar states from enforcing their own consumer protection laws.

“Minnesota’s consumer-protection law prohibits deceptive practices, and federal law does not preempt Minnesota’s enforcing it against WinRed. Because an enforceable state law underlies General Ellison’s investigation, the investigation may proceed,” the three-judge panel ruled in an opinion written by Judge Duane Benton and joined by Judge Lavenski Smith. Judge Bobby Shepherd wrote separately that the issue was speculative and “not yet ripe” for judicial review. All three judges are appointees of former President George W. Bush.

WinRed has not yet responded to a request for comment on the appeals court’s ruling.

The court cited previous Federal Election Commission opinions in which the agency said recurring donation pre-checked boxes were outside its jurisdiction, as well as a 2021 FEC letter to Congress asking it to create recurring contribution consent and disclaimer requirements.

The investigations began after a 2021 New York Times report detailed how WinRed and former President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign had used pre-checked boxes to opt donors into recurring contributions, without those donors — including seniors with budget constraints — understanding what they had been opted into.

The court did indicate WinRed could seek to limit the scope of Ellison’s subpoenas, with Shepherd writing that the Minnesota attorney general’s office was seeking “an extraordinary amount of sensitive information” from WinRed.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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