Several recent news reports are a reminder of the importance of the coordination rules. The relaxed rules on raising and spending money on “independent expenditures,” either through a Super PAC or some other entity, are premised on that spending being “independent” of the candidate or political party the independent spender is supporting. There is not a great deal of law on exactly what types of activities constitute “coordination” that would void an outside group’s independence, nor have there been many legal challenges filed.
The increasingly acrimonious Massachusetts U.S. Senate race has led to competing claims of illegal coordination. The state Democratic Party filed a complaint with the FEC alleging that the campaign of incumbent Republican Senator Scott Brown illegally coordinated with Crossroads GPS, a SuperPAC. The state Republican Party returned fire, accusing Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren of illegal coordination with the AFL-CIO. Although the dueling allegations may initially appear to be just another example of mudslinging in a close contest, the FEC’s investigation will not end once the votes are tallied.
Nor is coordination a problem just for federal candidates. State laws may also prohibit coordinated activity, as evidenced by a recent allegation that Arizona’s Attorney General coordinated with a business association in his 2010 campaign in violation of a state law that can result in a civil penalty of three times the cost of the coordinated ad.
These reports highlight a point often forgotten in the heat of the final days of a campaign: the race is either won or lost, but cutting corners on compliance with campaign finance laws may come back to haunt, long after the race is done.