The Washington Post

Not speaking with your friends and family? Good, they can set up a super PAC for you.

We often refer to super PACs as "outside groups" because of their external influence on campaigns and laws barring them from coordinating with candidates they try to get elected. While these organizations conduct their activities independently, they might was well also be called "inside groups" in many cases because of deep ties between the people running or funding the super PACs and the candidates they support.

Sometimes candidates have friends in the right places. (Warner Bros. via Reuters)

From Alaska to Mississippi and points in between, we're reminded this election cycle that in the era of third-party groups wielding immense influence, friends, family (or as the Sprint ad campaign puts it, "framily") and other allies of congressional members and hopefuls have often taken matters into their own hands and launched super PACs tailor-made to protect the candidates they favor.

Take the Nebraska Senate race. The Omaha World-Herald reported Thursday that a super PAC that got $100,000 from the great-uncle of Midland University President Ben Sasse (R) unleashed a TV ad attacking former state treasurer Shane Osborn (R). Sasse's great uncle said he had not seen the ad. But apparently, he helped pay for it.

Then there's the Oregon Senate race, in which a super PAC dubbed "If He Votes Like That In Salem Imagine What He Will Do In Congress" (yes, that's seriously what it's called) has been spending money on an ad campaign against state Rep. Jason Conger (R). It just so happens that more than $30,000 of the $106,000 the group raised between January and March came from Stimson Lumber COO Andrew Miller, who has reportedly been linked romantically to pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby (R), Conger's opponent. Both Wehby's campaign and the consultant who oversaw the ads told the Oregonian newspaper that there was no coordination between them.

The list doesn't end there. Super PACs — which are powerful vehicles because they can raise and spend unlimited funds whereas candidates are subject to certain limits — with ties to candidates have cropped up in a handful of other key races.

The Hotline's Scott Bland reported last year that Jim Lottsfeldt, a donor to Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), had signed onto a super PAC designed to help give some air cover to the vulnerable Democrat facing reelection. In the same race, a super PAC backing former attorney general Dan Sullivan (R) received a total of $75,000 at the end of January from Sullivan's father and brother, according to its campaign finance report.

In Mississippi, a super PAC headed up by Republican National Committee member Henry Barbour, an ally of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), is hitting Cochran's opponent, state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), as detailed by Politico. In Kentucky, a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) is running a super PAC and nonprofit that have spent millions helping the Republican.

To be clear, these groups have not been found running afoul of any coordination laws. But the close ties may raise some eyebrows and rejuvenate debate about the fine line the current legal landscape has created.

The advent of these groups should come as no surprise given the current campaign finance landscape. The Post's Dan Eggen spotted the emergence of such efforts in the 2012 election cycle.

There are bigger super PACs with broader, less individually tailored goals. The Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC is one such group. It's name basically spells out its goal. American Crossroads is another large conservative super PAC with a goal of electing a broad slate of Republican Senate candidates.

But the ad-hoc super PAC occupies a special place in the current campaign landscape. It allows donors and strategists to micro-target campaigns without ever talking to said campaigns. And by the looks of it, they have not been shy in 2014 about doing so.

Updated at 5:38 p.m.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.



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