When the Federal Election Commission unanimously approved an advisory opinion last week that said federal candidates could only solicit up to $5,000 on behalf of so-called super PACs, they were either scoring one for campaign finance reform or helping politicians delude democracy. It just depends on who you ask.
Basically it works this way — politicians are allowed to raise money for political action committees, but they have to ask that donors give only up to $5,000. Legally, those donors can give how ever much money they want. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
That’s pretty much how James Bopp — the lawyer who first came up with the idea that the ban on coordination between politicians and independent expenditure committees only applied to spending the money, not raising it — sees it.
Bopp told TPM that he doesn’t see the $5,000 disclaimer “as being meaningful, because everyone knows or will know that Super PACs can solicit unlimited contributions. 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.”
Here’s how the decision is being described elsewhere:
- Ralph Z. Hallow of the Washington Times said the FEC’s decision gave Bopp the “green light” to “skirt federal campaign-finance limits and to raise more money than ever before.”
- Over at the OpenSecrets blog run by the Center for Responsive Politics, Kathleen Ronayne wrote that the FEC “put its foot down” on Bopp.
- Eliza Newlin Carney wrote in Roll Call that the FEC’s decision looked like a victory for tough campaign finance laws on the surface, but said the ruling “includes a little-noticed provision that frees up federal officials to attend and speak at fundraisers for such big-money PACs, events where PAC organizers may encourage donors to write larger checks than a lawmaker requests.”
- The Sunlight Foundation’s Lisa Rosenberg wrote that the decision “takes us perilously close to the days of soft money—those unlimited contributions candidates would solicit for the national parties in order to skirt limits on how much could be directly given to their campaigns.” Rosenberg called the $5,000 limit “niceties,” and said it was “in name only” because it “opened the door for elected officials to ask corporate CEOs or union leaders for personal contributions of no more than $5,000.” She continued: “Moreover, the Super PACs for which Members of Congress will be dialing for dollars are legally known as ‘Independent Expenditure Only Political Committees,’ begging the question: Can a PAC act independently from a candidate or elected official who is raising money for it?”