Hybrid ‘PACs’ push the campaign finance boundaries
The latest attempt to push the boundaries of campaign finance law comes from the Republican Senator Mike Lee, who filed an advisory opinion request with the Federal Election Commission asking whether his Leadership Political Action Committee can start a second bank account, under the same PAC, which accepts independent expenditures.
“It’s an interesting idea, except for the fact that it’s illegal,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit group working to eliminate the influence of corporate money in elections.
Under current FEC rules, a traditional PAC is allowed to have a separate segregated account for unlimited contributions if the funds are spent on independent expenditures — making it a so-called hybrid committee.
But Democracy 21 says that because a Leadership PAC uses its independent expenditures to directly support candidates, and is sponsored by a lawmaker, it cannot accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals.
“The answer to this question is open and shut: the federal campaign finance laws clearly and unequivocally prohibit the Leadership PAC of a Member of Congress from soliciting or receiving unlimited contributions,” said Wertheimer.
He also pegged the advisory request as the most recent tactic in the fight against campaign finance regulations: a “throw everything you can think of against the wall and see what sticks” approach.
Lee’s Constitutional Conservatives Fund is “dedicated to the cause of finding, funding, and supporting conservative candidates” and is currently actively endorsing for Republican Senate candidates in states around the country.
A lawyer for the PAC argued in the advisory request that the Constitutional Conservatives Fund’s interest in accepting unlimited contributions wasn’t a “particularly novel or unique” request.
“The Constitution simply does not permit the government to suppress free speech by restricting the right to make contributions to Independent Expenditures,” said Dan Backer, the lawyer for Lee’s fund.
But in a statement, Wertheimer said he was confident that the opinion would not be decided in Lee’s favor. “It is very hard to see how even the dysfunctional FEC can figure out a way to emasculate the campaign finance laws in this case,” he said.