A new super PAC launching a $1 million TV campaign against Democratic Senate hopeful Bruce Braley in Iowa this week is run out of the Des Moines consulting firm of a strategist for Braley’s GOP opponent -- the latest example of how campaigns and their outside allies are operating in close proximity.
The super PAC, Priorities for Iowa Political Fund, is headed by Sara Craig, a consultant for Redwave Communications. Last year, Craig and Redwave founder David Kochel together started a similarly named tax-exempt group, Priorities for Iowa, which ran an ad hammering Braley after he was caught on tape dismissively referring to GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley as “a farmer.”
More recently, Kochel has served as an outside strategist for Braley’s opponent, GOP Senate candidate Joni Ernst. Her campaign has paid Kochel's firm more than $25,000 for direct mail services this year, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
Craig said in a statement that Kochel has no involvement with the super PAC, which she registered with the FEC on Sept. 5.
"Redwave implemented a firewall policy before Priorities for Iowa Political Fund was even formed, walling off personnel so that we can service our clients within the confines of established law," she said.
According to FEC filings, the pro-Ernst super PAC recently spent more than $1 million on a TV ad against Braley that is expected to go on the air shortly.
Unlike federal candidates, super PACs can accept unlimited contributions, but they are not permitted to coordinate their strategy with candidates or party committees.
However, this year’s midterms have seen the widespread emergence of single-candidate super PACs that are run or funded by people close to the candidate they support. Advocates of stricter campaign finance rules say such groups are functioning as de facto arms of official campaigns, effectively circumventing the limits on donations to candidates.
But the FEC, which is deeply split along ideological lines, seems unlikely to pursue potential cases of illegal coordination.
“The paralysis of the Federal Election Commission tells all these political operatives they can do whatever they want,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit that works to reduce the influence of money in politics.
With little action on the federal level, some state and local jurisdictions are pursuing new regulations seeking to prevent collaboration between candidates and their outside allies. Philadelphia and San Diego are both seeking to rein in the use of candidate b-roll footage by outside groups.
“Everyone has thrown up their hands about the ability of the FEC to do anything right now, but in some state and local areas, there is some real momentum for change,” said Chisun Lee, counsel for the liberal Brennan Center for Justice, who authored an upcoming report about political coordination.