August 28th, 2011

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New York Times: Lines Blur Between Candidates and PACs With Unlimited Cash

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Whatever faint lines existed between PACs and candidates are rapidly becoming meaningless.  Unlimited cash is flowing to the campaigns without accountability.

New York Times (registration may be required)

Most of this year’s presidential candidates are now backed by one or more dedicated Super PACs. Unlike the broad-based independent groups backing multiple candidates that flooded last year’s Congressional elections with negative advertising — playing a role similar to that of traditional party committees — the new groups are each dedicated to the election of a single candidate.

The groups are typically founded by the candidates’ former aides, financed by the candidates’ top donors and implicitly blessed by the candidates themselves. And they are quickly beginning to rival the candidates’ own money operations in size and scope, setting off a fund-raising arms race that is changing the way presidential campaigns are financed and executed.

Restore Our Future is run by three veterans of Mr. Romney’s 2008 campaign team. They were recently joined by a fund-raiser who left Mr. Romney’s 2012 team, according to a report by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity. Restore Our Future raised more than $12 million during the first half of the year — more than any actual Republican candidate except Mr. Romney himself.

A pair of aides to President Obama started Priorities USA, the leading Democratic Super PAC, just two months after they left their jobs at the White House in February. And two weeks ago, a onetime consultant to Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota took over Citizens for a Working America, a previously existing Super PAC, with plans to focus solely on electing Ms. Bachmann president.

On Thursday, Thomas E. Muir, an executive at the Huntsman Corporation, filed papers to form Our Destiny PAC, a Super PAC devoted to electing Jon M. Huntsman Jr., a former Utah governor and the son of the corporation’s founder.

Make Us Great Again, a Super PAC founded late last month, is backed by Mike Toomey, a prominent lobbyist in Austin, Tex., who is a former chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. Mr. Toomey also owns a private New Hampshire island with Dave Carney, the top strategist for Mr. Perry’s nascent presidential campaign.

Federal Election Commission guidelines adopted in the wake of the Supreme Court decision prohibit independent groups from coordinating expenditures with their favored presidential candidates and limit how much candidates can directly help raise for the groups. And during Mr. Romney’s brief appearance before current and prospective donors to Restore Our Future, he made no appeal for money, according to participants.

Gail Gitcho, a Romney spokeswoman, declined to comment on the event, saying only that “any activity done by our campaign is done within the letter and the spirit of the law.”

In a statement, Jason Miller, a spokesman for Make Us Great Again, said the group would abide carefully by all federal restrictions.

“There is an absolute firewall between Make Us Great Again and the campaign, and there is no communication between the two regarding activities, plans or projects,” Mr. Miller said. “Everybody involved with our efforts, including Mike Toomey, is very careful about this.”

But some advocates for tighter campaign regulation say existing rules on independent groups did not anticipate the emergence of Super PACs so closely tied to a single candidate, leaving so much room to maneuver that the independent groups are able to act as surrogates for the candidates.

“There’s not a big difference between these candidate-specific Super PACs and candidate campaign committees,” said Paul S. Ryan, associate legal counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. “I think it’s a joke. What they are doing is abiding by the very meager restrictions on coordinations on expenditures and solicitations. But that leaves a wide swath of activities that can be fully coordinated under present law.”