Happy Holidays, Super PACs: FEC Removes Yet Another Block Against Dark Money
Little-noticed rule allows candidates to solicit money for super PACs as long as it's done in a small meeting
The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) has quietly released a new advisory opinion that will make it even easier for candidates and their staffers to solicit for super PACs donations.
The opinion states that candidates can ask for funds from donors as long as they are meeting in small groups—as small as three people, according to the Washington Post, which first reported on the story Thursday.
In addition, campaign staffers and consultants will be allowed to solicit large donations for a super PAC as long as they make clear they were not directed to do so by the candidate, the Post's Matea Gold reports.
Federal candidates are still not permitted to explicitly ask a donor to give more than $5,000 to a super PAC. But the latest decision means that an elected official or candidate can meet privately with just one wealthy donor and one super PAC operative to discuss fundraising for the group, said Ellen Weintraub, one of two Democrats on the six-member panel who opposed loosening the rules.
All that is required under the guidelines is a written invitation, a formal program and a disclaimer that the candidate is appearing as a “special guest” who is not soliciting large checks.
The new rules further blur the lines between candidates seeking public office and the private entities that fund their election campaigns, removing yet more safeguards against political malfeasance and raising new transparency concerns. According to the Post, the opinion came in response to a request from two Democratic super PACs, including one with ties to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev).
"This is actually very dangerous if you’re worried about corruption, the notion that these kind of small back-room meetings can take place," Weintraub told the Post. "The fewer people you have in the room, the fewer protections you have against something unsavory happening."
FEC's opinion, largely unnoticed since it was offered in November, comes after years of criticism from throughout the progressive sphere over the agency's weak enforcement of campaign finance rules that have become precious since the Supreme Court in 2010 ruled in favor of corporate dark money interests in Citizens United v. FEC. In October, a coalition of activists and organizations released a letter slamming the agency's weak enforcement of those rules and calling on commissioners to simply do their jobs.
"Today's flood of dark money in federal elections via both electioneering communications and independent expenditures is almost wholly the creation of the Federal Election Commission and the Commission should take responsibility for correcting this problem," the letter stated.
The cost of the 2016 election cycle is expected to top $10 billion. The coalition, which includes Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth, and the Center for Media and Democracy, called on the FEC to, among other things, "update its coordination rule to ensure that unregulated super PACs and other outside electioneering groups are truly independent of candidate and party committees."