A Pete Buttigieg adviser tweeted Wednesday the importance of getting the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor’s record in the military out to the people of Nevada, and the message looked an awful lot like he was trying to get around federal anti-coordination rules that prevent campaigns from sharing strategy and messaging with outside groups.
Michael Halle, who is a strategist for Buttigieg’s Democratic presidential campaign, tweeted publicly that it was “critical” Buttigieg’s military experience is seen in Nevada “on the air through the caucus,” which is Feb. 22.
To be clear, this tweet does not break the law. Though campaign finance rules prohibit coordination between campaigns and outside groups, there’s an exception: “if the information material to the creation, production, or distribution of the communication was obtained from a publicly available source,” the Federal Election Commission states.
In other words, it’s perfectly legal to put an idea out in the open, like on Twitter, and hope the group you want to act on it runs with the idea. Democrats and Republicans have been doing this for years. Halle and the Buttigieg campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the intentions of the tweet.
But Halle’s message goes to show just how blurry some of campaign finance rules can be.
Competing presidential campaigns have already reacted to the message. Roger Lau, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign manager, asked whether Halle meant to send the tweet over a private message to an outside group (that would be illegal).
“It’s a slap in the face of campaign finance law to so brazenly and unethically direct a Super PAC how to spend on his behalf — all while leaving New Hampshire to do big-money New York fundraisers,” Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is associated with the Warren campaign, said in a statement. “Donald Trump would call him part of the corrupt swamp if he were ever the nominee.”
Businessman Andrew Yang’s campaign manager simply responded with “Yikes.”
This practice isn’t new. Democratic and Republican party committees have set up Twitter accounts in the past to release polling data and share information about advertising buys. In 2016, The Washington Post reported how Sen. Marco Rubio’s Republican presidential campaign would put out messages online that would then be picked up by his super PAC.
And it’s been acknowledged by even those on the FEC. In 2014, Ann Ravel, then a FEC commissioner, admitted that technology made the rules “murky.”
Buttgieg’s campaign dissolved his super PAC, Hitting Home PAC, in May, as he joined his Democratic rivals in eschewing dark money in politics.
But one group — VoteVets.org, a political action committee dedicated to veterans — has already spent $610,441 as an independent expenditure. Ironically, Buttigieg’s campaign sent out an email to supporters hitting the Bernie Sanders campaign for embracing support from outside groups after a coalition of progressive groups formed an independent expenditure in support of the Vermont senator.
Buttigieg has had to defend his campaign’s financial strategy repeatedly on the national stage after Warren attacked him at a debate for fundraising with millionaires in Napa Valley “wine caves.” He argued that big money in politics isn’t necessarily corrupting.