Campaign Fundraisers Never Die. They Just Reload.

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois delegates cheer as Senate candidate from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. September 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, center, and Illinois delegates cheer as Senate candidate from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The Republicans may have Clint Eastwood on their side, protecting us from sneak attacks by furniture, but the Democrats have their own troubled antihero: Rahmbo!

On Wednesday, it was announced that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama’s former chief of staff and Bill Clinton’s former political and finance director (where his ruthlessness earned him the Rahmbo nickname), was stepping down as national co-chair of the Obama reelection committee. Instead, Emanuel, a notoriously potent fundraiser, is joining forces with the pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action.

Nicholas Confessore at The New York Times writes:

“The deployment of Mr. Emanuel… gives Democratic groups for the first time a dedicated rainmaker of a stature similar to Karl Rove, the strategist who advises a network of Republican outside groups that are expected to spend as much as $500 million in this election cycle. Mr. Emanuel will also raise money for two super PACs supporting Democrats in Congress, beginning with a fund-raiser in Chicago on Monday for House Majority PAC.”

“‘I just find all the special-interest money lined up on the other side, tilting the scales in a way that I don’t want to see. So if I can help, I’m going to help,’ Mr. Emanuel said in an interview on Wednesday. His considerable campaign energies, Mr. Emanuel said, would be best spent helping Mr. Obama where he really needed help.”

Yet while Rahm Emanuel may be seen as parachuting to the rescue, his revised role once again raises serious campaign finance issues that have bedeviled the election from the start. The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call warns:

“It’s precisely the kind of move that has watchdogs complaining that super PACs, which by law must operate independently from the politicians they back, are actually little more than extensions of the candidates’ campaigns. Democracy 21 has repeatedly written to Attorney General Eric Holder to complain that both Obama and Romney — who has personally met with super PAC donors — are colluding with the super PACs that endorse them.”

The Associated Press concurs: “The move reflects increasing alarm by Democrats being outspent by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and shows that despite legal limits, the lines between campaigns and super PACs are blurry.”

Not only blurry but verging on the Byzantine. According to The Washington Post:

“Emanuel resigned his honorary campaign chairman title in a nod to Federal Election Commission [FEC] rules that prohibit coordination between the supposedly independent super PACs and the official campaigns. Romney and Obama both have close advisers running their super PACs. But because of the regulations, officials from both campaigns say they maintain a wall between the campaign operations and the ‘independent expenditure’ of the super PACs.”

AP adds, “FEC rules largely prohibit paid employees and independent contractors of campaigns from working for a super PAC within 120 days of leaving that campaign. Emanuel was a volunteer for Obama’s campaign so that prohibition does not apply to him.”

Of this distinction, former FEC commissioner and reform advocate Trevor Potter told the news service, “It meets the current, pathetic legal definition of ‘independent,’ not the common-sense one.”

The New York Times’ Andrew Rosenthal writes, “So much for keeping up the pretense that super PACs are independent from campaigns.”

“… Asked about Mr. Emanuel’s decision to step down as co-chairman of the Obama campaign and move over to the unaffiliated, uncoordinated super PAC, a spokeswoman for the campaign, Jen Psaki, said on Wednesday that ‘we’re not going to bring a butter knife to a gun fight.’”

Rosenthal concludes, “Mr. Emanuel’s move, on the second day of the Democratic National Convention, was likely meant to reassure Mr. Obama’s supporters. It also carried a whiff of panic.”

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