By all accounts, Romney’s campaign and the group spending millions of dollars on his behalf are not violating the law that prohibits campaigns and independent organizations from coordinating their efforts.
The law was meant to separate campaigns from outside groups with wealthy donors — the theory being that large political contributions could have a corrupting influence on candidates.
But it is a fuzzy line that separates the campaigns from groups such as Crossroads and the super PACs that have sprung up in the wake of a 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed unrestricted corporate spending on campaigns. And the 2012 campaign, with its surge in spending from independent groups, offers many examples of how little the law actually prohibits when it comes to “coordination.”
The major super PACs helping President Obama and Romney, for example, were formed by men who previously worked as aides to the candidates.
And at least 30 political consulting companies have been hired by both a campaign or party and an independent group, according to campaign disclosure reports. The consultants provide a range of services, from polling to legal advice to media consulting.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shares 10 vendors with the major super PAC helping Democrats win House races, the House Majority PAC. The super PAC, for example, paid $31,000 to Ralston Lapp Media to produce television ads, while the DCCC paid $173,000 for the same purpose. Nine Democratic congressional candidates also hired the company.
Contributions to candidates are capped at $2,500 for each election, but for many types of interest groups, there are no restrictions on donations. In order to prevent the groups from becoming de facto extensions of the campaigns, they are prohibited from spending money at the request of candidates or using inside knowledge of their strategies or wishes. But hiring a firm that works for both sides is legal as long as information is not shared.
Advocates for tighter restrictions on political money say the weakness of the law has allowed interest groups to essentially become another arm of the campaigns.
“The real scandal in 2012 is what’s legal,” said Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center, which supports tightening campaign finance laws. “Certainly the law does not prevent coordination in the way that word is generally understood by the public.”
Over the past decade, more than 30 complaints of alleged coordination in federal races have been brought to the Federal Election Commission. But the complaints rarely prompt investigations because of the difficulty of collecting private communications that might prove coordination.