Something Old, Something New, Something Wrong

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Some Republicans may not be in favor of environmental regulation but apparently they have nothing against recycling.

The Detroit Free Press reported this week that in anticipation of the February 28 Michigan primary, voters have been receiving robocalls from Rick Santorum endorsing… Mitt Romney.

But the recording actually was made in 2008 when Santorum — not running for president that year — endorsed Romney as the “best alternative” to John McCain.

No one’s exactly sure whether they’re coming from the Romney campaign or his super PAC but similar calls took place during the South Carolina primary.

Meanwhile, that super PAC — Restore Our Future, aka “The Death Star” — is recycling an ad originally produced for the last Romney campaign back in 2007. Word for word, it recounts how Romney mobilized the Bain Capital staff to search for the missing daughter of his business partner. Only some footage of the New York skyline and the funding credit at the end have been changed.

At first glance, this may not seem like a big deal but The Huffington Post reports that the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan watchdog, believes that the new version of the ad “violates campaign law that prohibits the republication of campaign materials by a super PAC.”

The center’s Paul Ryan told HuffPo, “Super PACs are prohibited from making coordinated communications [with the official campaign]. Super PACs are also prohibited from making payments to candidates. There’s an FEC regulation that treats the dissemination, distribution or republication of campaign materials as a contribution from the super PAC to the candidate regardless of whether or not it’s coordinated with the candidate. It appears that Restore Our Future, by republishing a Romney campaign ad, has clearly violated the law.”

The ad controversy spotlights an uneasy truth: the Citizens United decision that created the super PACs and resulting changes in election law remain so new that everyone is still figuring out the rules. In the meantime, super PACs are stretching the limits and figuring that the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is too weak and indecisive to do much of anything about it. It’s Dodge City out there and the FEC is a terrible sheriff, the shakiest gun in the West.

In The Los Angeles Times, Melanie Mason and Matea Gold write:

Much of the focus on super PACs has been on their ability to raise unlimited sums from a cadre of super-rich donors. Less attention has been paid to how they use their money — and the fact that they do not have to contend with the same kind of internal scrutiny as the candidates and political parties they support.

“People who are raising the money are paying themselves with these funds. I don’t think that’s appropriate,” said Dale Emmons, president of the American Assn. of Political Consultants, which is studying the impact of super PACs on the industry.

Mason and Gold cite several examples of “how political operatives behind the super PACs can take advantage of the mammoth donations streaming into the funds and the lack of oversight.” The Red, White and Blue Fund, Rick Santorum’s super PAC paid more than half a million dollars in January to a direct mail company owned by Nick Ryan, founder of the fund and a former Santorum aide.

Former Clinton campaign and White House aide Paul Begala has made $200,000 in the last eight months as senior advisor to Priorities USA Action, the pro-Obama super PAC. And in January the Newt Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, paid its president, Becky Burkett, $206,000 for “executive management and fundraising services” and managing director Gregg Phillips $90,000. Spokesman Rick Tyler said salaries are determined by the super PAC’s senior leadership, which consists of Tyler — and Burkett and Phillips.

In the conservative Washington Times, Luke Rosiak reports that Burkett actually paid herself $220,000 in January, “making more in 20 days than any other super PAC official has made in total since the groups exploded onto the scene.”

And just to bring everything full circle, in a separate Washington Times piece, Rosiak reveals that with the exception of two ad agencies, the biggest recipient of cash from Romney’s Restore Our Future super PAC is “a top Romney aide who left the presidential campaign to oversee the super PAC’s finances.”

The PAC has paid $2 million to Steve C. Roche through a mysterious limited liability company set up shortly after the political committee was established, one that formed in Delaware taking steps that hide its creator’s identity and has no physical or billing address other than a P.O. Box.

The LLC also was formed while Mr. Roche was still receiving funds from Mr. Romney’s campaign in what could be the clearest sign yet of a non-existent wall between a candidate and the super PACs, which are required to be independent.

Roche’s company is called Podium Capital. Its purpose is said to be fundraising but beyond that all a Restore Our Future spokesperson would say is, “We don’t typically comment on vendors.”
And where’s the Federal Election Commission? “The FEC has rendered itself a nonentity,” the Campaign Legal Center’s Paul Ryan told Luke Rosiak. “They’re the cops in the doughnut shop.”

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  • GradyLeeHoward

    5 of 6 FEC commissioners are (not) operating on expired terms. Three are Democrats, three Republicans, so they have been deadlocked for many years. Republicans in Congress refuse to hold hearings or vote on Obama’s FEC nominees and the latest one withdrew in frustration. So in effect there is no FEC. If there were they’d probably be starved for funds to investigate or enforce, a “starved beast.” Right now they are a “strangled beast.”