Super PAC Coordination: An Explainer Part 2

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Shedding even more light on a needlessly complex Campaign Finance System.


Super PACs are prohibited from coordinating with Political Candidates.  Their operations must run in parallel to the Political Candidate they support.

There are two ways a Super PAC can illegally coordinate with a Political Candidate:

  1. Coordinated Communications
  2. In-kind Contributions

In Part 1 of our Super PAC Explainer series, explored what Coordinated Communication is.  To sum it up, if there is coordination in private prior to the release of a paid Super PAC advertisement, it’s considered an illegal Coordinated Communication.

It’s very important to understand what Coordinated Communication is, but the reality is that most, if not all, of the illegal Super PAC coordination going on today is in the form in-kind contributions to political campaigns.

This article will cover what that means.

 

What’s an in-kind contribution?

 

Political Candidates are required to report anything of value they receive.

It’s easy to visualize a cash donation – if you give $1,000 to a political candidate, they record it as a $1,000 contribution.

But what if you ‘donate’ a service?

Let’s say, for example, you are a Communications Consultant that charges $10,000 for Debate Prep.

You like a particular candidate, and decide to ‘donate’ a Debate Prep session. You collect $0 for that session.

That said, the Candidate still received $10,000 worth of services from you. They are required to report your ‘donation’ as an in-kind contribution.


If you give anything of value to a Political Candidate, they must do one of two things:

  1. Pay you cash for whatever that thing is worth, or
  2. Pay you nothing and record it as an in-kind contribution.

How to determine if a Super PAC gave an illegal in-kind contribution

 

Remember, Super PACs are prohibited from coordinating with a Candidate. In-kind contributions are a form of coordination.

This is how the FEC defines it: If a Super PAC spends money at the request of a Political Candidate, but it DOES NOT meet the definition of “coordinated communication”, it’s classified as an illegal in-kind contribution.

 

If a Political Candidate asks a Super PAC, in private, to do anything that costs money, they’ve crossed into illegal territory.

 

If the thing is a public advertisement, and passes the 3-pronged test described in the previous article, it’s an illegal coordinated communication.

If the the thing isn’t a public advertisement, but the Political Campaign and Super PAC coordinated in private about it, it’s an illegal in-kind contribution.

 

Examples of illegal in-kind contributions include Candidates asking a Super PAC to conduct opposition research, pay “trackers” to follow political rivals across the country, and yes, fund an online army of shills to “Correct” a candidate’s record.

 

For awareness: In-kind contributions from a Super PAC are also sometimes referred to as “Coordinated Expenditures.”


Our next article will be exploring a pro-Clinton Super PAC – Correct the Record. This Super PAC openly collaborates with the Clinton Campaign, and claims to do so legally because they only engage in free, online communications.

Correct the Record is right – they don’t engage in any coordinated communications.

But they have provided millions of dollars worth of illegal in-kind contributions to the Clinton Campaign!

Here’s what happens:

  • Hillary Clinton directs Correct the Record, in private, to push a message on free online forums.
  • Correct the Record then spends millions of dollars employing people to post pro-Clinton messages online.

Or to put it another way:

  • Hillary Clinton directs a Super PAC, in private, to do a thing.
  • The Super PAC then spends millions of dollars to do the thing.

 

That looks a lot like an illegal in-kind contribution, doesn’t it?

 

 

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