Money and Democracy

Published — July 27, 2011 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Democrats and Republicans alike are exploiting new fundraising loophole

Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential candidate. Alex Brandon/AP


It was a traditional fundraising trek to New York, but with a twist.

While Mitt Romney was in New York to attend fundraisers for his presidential campaign and the state GOP on July 19, he also spoke at a dinner party for donors and potential donors hosted by Restore Our Future, an independent super PAC which has raised $12 million in large unregulated checks to help boost his candidacy.

Fundraisers familiar with Restore Our Future, which was set up a few top aides from Romney’s abortive 2008 campaign, say that Romney departed soon after he made brief remarks.

A loophole, recently blessed by the Federal Election Commission in an advisory opinion, allows some fundraising help for super PACs—which can accept unlimited checks—by members of Congress and presidential candidates. Both parties are exploiting it.

The FEC in its advisory ruling last month reaffirmed that members of Congress and presidential candidates can attend and speak at events hosted by independent super PACs, but they are personally not allowed to solicit the unlimited funds, only contributions up to $5,000 per year.

Last month, three Democratic senators wrote emails to financial supporters urging them to back Majority PAC, another super PAC that also can accept unlimited funds and is designed to keep the Democrats in control of the Senate.

Monica Dixon, the group’s executive director, told iWatch News that the three senators, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Al Franken and John Kerry, all requested donations of up to $5,000—the maximum PAC contribution per year.

In mid July, Majority PAC organized an informational briefing about its operations for potential donors on idyllic Martha’s Vineyard, at the same time that over 20 Democratic senators were on the island to attend an annual Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee bash for their leading donors.

Franken attended the briefing although he didn’t speak, his press aide said. Susan McCue, a founder of the PAC and a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, hosted the Vineyard event which featured a talk by star Democratic operative James Carville.

Dixon stressed that the Majority PAC event was not a fundraiser and that the group is being careful to adhere to the new FEC guidelines. “There’s a bright line that the FEC has drawn and we’re following it,” she said.

Campaign analysts predict a surge in new fundraising for super PACs by candidates and office holders due to the FEC advisory and recent court rulings including last year’s historic Supreme Court decision allowing corporations and unions to give unlimited sums to independent political groups for ads and other electoral activities that directly back candidates.

But some legal experts caution that the new fundraising landscape seems filled with contradictions because of older restrictions that prohibit coordination between candidates and independent expenditure groups.

Trevor Potter, a former chairman of the FEC and the president of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, told iWatch News that, “The fact is that the common sense definition of what independent uncoordinated expenditures of the sort referenced by the Supreme Court in Citizens United bears very little resemblance to the high levels of contact between candidates and these outside groups now permitted by the FEC.”

Some analysts argue that the new FEC advisory permitting members and candidates to attend super PAC events is effectively a type of coordination. “It flies in the face of reason to allow candidates to appear at super PAC events, while at the same time saying that they’re not coordinating with them or requesting unlimited contributions,” added Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

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