Earlier this year we predicted that battles over the definition of “coordination” and Super PAC “independence” would play a significant role in the development of campaign finance law in the coming years. In keeping with that forecast, last week, the California Fair Political Practices Commission for the first time fined a Super PAC for allegedly coordinating its activities with a candidate’s campaign.
The $6,500 fine was levied against Voters for a New California, a small Super PAC that spent about $29,000 on mailers supporting Luis Alejo, a candidate for State Assembly. According to the FPPC, Alejo’s campaign manager, Joaquin Ross, was also a “principal officer” of the Super PAC. Ross’s dual hats meant that Voters for a New California was not “independent,” the FPPC concluded. As a result, the FPPC claimed that the Super PAC falsely reported an illegal over-the-limit contribution to Alejo as an independent expenditure.
Enforcement actions like this one — though rare — provide a window into the kinds of activities agencies consider to be coordination. As this body of law develops, the contours of what counts as “coordination” — and what does not — will increasingly take shape. One thing, however, is already clear: campaigns and Super PACs must be especially vigilant to avoid any unlawful overlap amongst their officers, employees, volunteers, and agents.