The Federal Election Commission may investigate whether Russian agents paid for Facebook ads to spread damaging stories about Hillary Clinton in the weeks ahead of the presidential election.
FEC commissioner Ellen Weintrub, a Democratic appointee, asked the agency to examine whether foreign agents illegally paid the social media service for political advertisements, in addition to related ongoing probes initiated by complaints filed by watchdog groups in December, reported Politico.
The FBI and several congressional committees are also investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the election.
FEC commissioners agreed unanimously in October to prioritize investigations into complaints about foreign election contributions -- which is prohibited by the Federal Election Campaign Act.
Foreign nationals are prohibited under the law from making expenditures to influence U.S. elections, and campaigns are barred from coordinating with outside entities.
The agency could begin issuing subpoenas and moving toward civil penalties if four of its five commissioners vote to find reason to believe a violation might have occurred.
The FBI could potentially request the FEC stand down if their investigations begin overlapping, Politico reported.
"The FEC has broad investigative powers to subpoena witnesses and documents, and compel testimony under oath," said Ron Fein, of Free Speech for People, one of the watchdog groups that filed the previous complaint. "I don’t want to suggest that the FEC is a model of rapid enforcement, but this is possibly the single most important campaign finance investigation in the agency’s entire history and this is its opportunity to rise to the challenge."
Free Speech for People and the Campaign for Accountability alleged in their complaint that Russia violated the federal law when its state-run media outlets and social media operations spread stories intended to hurt Clinton and help Trump.
The complaint also asked the FEC to investigate evidence that Trump's campaign associates violated campaign finance laws by coordinating with Russians.