Pro-Clinton super PAC says they can directly coordinate with campaign as long as no money’s involved




Correct the Record, the pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC that made news earlier this week for not-so-subtly linking Bernie Sanders to Jeremy Corbyn and Hugo Chavez, is claiming that they can directly coordinate efforts with Clinton’s campaign under certain circumstances.

From the Washington Post:

Hillary Clinton, via Wikimedia Commons

Hillary Clinton, via Wikimedia Commons

Correct the Record believes it can avoid the coordination ban by relying on a 2006 Federal Election Commission regulation that declared that content posted online for free, such as blogs, is off limits from regulation. The “Internet exemption” said that such free postings do not constitute campaign expenditures, allowing independent groups to consult with candidates about the content they post on their sites. By adopting the measure, the FEC limited its online jurisdiction to regulating paid political ads.

The rules “totally exempt individuals who engage in political activity on the Internet from the restrictions of the campaign finance laws. The exemption for individual Internet activity in the final rules is categorical and unqualified,” then-FEC Chairman Michael E. Toner said at the time,according to a 2006 Washington Post story. The regulation “protects Internet activities by individuals in all forms, including e-mailing, linking, blogging, or hosting a Web site,” said Toner, now a prominent Republican campaign finance attorney.

By Correct the Record’s reasoning, Clinton’s campaign can weigh in on the articles and videos they produce in their efforts to support her — otherwise known as directing strategy — as long as those articles and videos don’t make their way into paid advertising slots. While the group is registered as a super PAC, which allows it to raise unlimited sums of money, it does not intend to spend any of that money on paid media, thereby allowing it to sidestep the coordination ban.

Notably, in order to make that last statement true, Correct the Record had to separate from their parent super PAC, American Bridge — the separation accounts both for why Correct the Record is registered as a super PAC in the first place, and why it now doesn’t need the kind of money that you’re normally looking to raise when registering a super PAC.

It remains to be seen if this maneuver does in fact follow the letter of the law. Mark Elias, the Democratic lawyer representing Clinton in her lawsuits challenging voting rights restrictions in a number of states, is still waiting to hear back from the FEC. However, as the Post notes, FEC regulations limit the kind of coordination in Internet activity to “uncompensated individuals,” and CtR’s staff is paid.

Either way, this kind of coordination certainly violates the law’s spirit, as it effectively allows CtR to be a part of Clinton’s campaign while calling themselves something else. If they didn’t allow every Clinton attack to be reported as coming from an organization other than the Clinton campaign, there’d be no reason left not to simply hire all of their staff to form an in-house rapid-response and opposition research team. After all, it’s not like the super PAC is going to need a ton of money.

It took campaigns a couple of cycles to figure out how to use Citizens United to completely erase the line between contribution-limited campaigns and contribution-unlimited super PACs, but they’re getting close. As Matt Ford wrote in the Atlantic earlier today, the line is already so blurry that people who know better have stopped noticing them. As Ford points out, when Jake Tapper asked Jeb Bush about his fundraising at Wednesday night’s debate, he cited the combined total of Bush’s campaign and all of his super PACs — over $100 million — because for all intents and purposes that’s how much money Bush has raised. The $11.4 million subset of that figure residing in his official campaign committee’s account isn’t worth distinguishing:

Tapper is an experienced political reporter who knows the technical difference between a campaign and a super PAC. Bush obviously knows his own campaign doesn’t have $100 million in donations. And yet the distinction between independent expenditures and direct campaign donations didn’t matter during a nationally televised presidential debate. If the candidates, the press, and the public don’t see a difference, why should the Supreme Court?

To be clear, I’m sympathetic to the argument coming from the Clinton camp that in the Citizens United era it’s difficult to fault a candidate for playing by the rules of the game as they’re written. You can be all in favor of any number of campaign finance reforms — from restoring meaningful contribution limits all the way down to publicly-financed elections — but Republicans are exploiting the hell out of these nonexistent restrictions, and money still matters when it comes to winning. I get that.

But honestly, come on. The rules of the game are busted. And when you start parsing which kinds of coordination really count as coordination, you come off as being more than okay with that fact. If Correct the Record wants to take direction from Hillary Clinton’s staff when going about correcting the record, they should be a part of her campaign. If they think they can correct the record without her help, they’re more than welcome go to their separate way and do so.

And if you have to find loopholes in FEC regulations in order to win — in other words, if your strategy works — what makes you think you’ll be taken seriously when you say you want to close those same loopholes?


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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