As Stephen Colbert did his victory lap outside the Federal Election Commission’s headquarters on Thursday, the six commissioners still inside the hearing voted on a measure that will have a much bigger effect on the 2012 election.
FEC commissioners voted 6-0 on an advisory opinion that allows federal candidates to solicit money for so-called “super PACs,” but only for amounts up to $5,000. The opinion was issued in response to a request from Democratic lawyers, who said they planned to copy a proposal by Republican campaign lawyer James Bopp to have GOP politicians solicit contributions for his newly-formed Republican Super PAC.
Bopp, the lawyer behind the Citizens United case, told the Wall Street Journal he was “thrilled” with the FEC’s decision and said the $5,000 limit on solicitations is “meaningless” since “candidates will be able to endorse [outside groups] and ask donors to contribute to them.”
He told TPM in a Wednesday interview ahead of the FEC’s decision that his view was that federal candidates could solicit without any disclaimer.
“I don’t see the disclaimer as being meaningful, because everyone knows or will know that Super PACs can solicit unlimited contributions,” Bopp said. “So once you’ve got a candidate endorsing your PAC and urging people that he’s close to to contribute, it will accomplish our purposes.”
Bopp said that no federal candidates have solicited on behalf of his “Super PAC,” but noted that Sen. Harry Reid had done so. That was in an email that contained a note saying Reid was “only asking for a donation of up to $5,000 from individuals or federal PACs. He is not asking for funds from corporations, labor unions, or other federally prohibited sources.”
One potential worry is that if politicians solicit on behalf of political action committees, those committees will in turn spend money on behalf of those politicians, limiting the, well, independence, of the PAC’s independent expenditures.
Still, campaign finance reform groups were happy with the FEC’s decision.
“The clear and unanimous ruling by the FEC today should put an end to any talk of federal candidates and officeholders, and national party officials, soliciting unlimited contributions for Super PACs,” Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said in a statement.
So why the unanimous ruling from a commission that typically deadlocks on partisan lines on a regular basis?
“I think Jim Bopp’s proposal was a bridge too far, even for the three FEC Commissioners,” wrote law professor Rick Hasen. “Not only would there have been a public outcry, but I imagine the issue would have ended up in the courts, and created great uncertainty as the 2012 election season gets into full swing.”