POLITICS

One Email That Proves Campaign Finance Laws Are A Joke

Super PACs and candidates can't coordinate, except when they obviously do.

WASHINGTON -- Carly for America, the super PAC backing former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina’s presidential campaign, invited supporters to join a conference call on Thursday with -- Carly Fiorina. Think this required any "coordination" between the supposedly independent super PAC and the candidate?

The email invite from the super PAC informs supporters that "Special Guest Republican Candidate for President Carly Fiorina" will be joining them. At the same time, it contains the necessary legal notice that Carly for America "is an independent expenditure committee and not authorized or coordinated with any federal candidate or candidate's committee."

The problem is that federal campaign coordination laws ban only certain types of cooperation and association between candidates and supposedly independent groups. A candidate cannot have input on the content -- text, video, imagery or other materials -- or the conduct -- strategy, timing or payment -- of a communication. This leaves a lot of other activity open to the interpretation of the Federal Election Commission, which rarely enforces the anti-coordination rules in particular and at this moment is deeply divided on how to enforce its regulations overall.

FEC gridlock is just one of many reasons why the 2016 presidential campaign has seen a complete meltdown of the notion that candidates don't work with the super PACs and nonprofits supporting them.

Few have gone as far as Fiorina, whose campaign is essentially being run out of the super PAC. The joint conference call with supporters featuring Fiorina but hosted by the super PAC is just one example of this. Staffers at Carly for America -- which has raised $3.4 million so far and will report its donors on Friday -- have taken on such core campaign functions as managing rapid response to press questions, rolling out endorsements of the candidate, funding grassroots organizing and organizing advance work for Fiorina’s appearances.

This is all a far cry from 2012 when Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney distanced himself from attack ads made by Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting his bid, by stating that he would go “to the big house” if he so much as urged the super PAC to stop running the ads.

This year, people are talking to each other. Just as Fiorina will speak on her super PAC-organized conference call, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry delivered his anti-Donald Trump speech at a July 22 event hosted by his super PAC, Opportunity and Freedom PAC.

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