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Is Tea Party Express Providing Illegal Support to Christine O’Donnell?

In the wake of the Palin endorsement in Delaware, another subplot is brewing. The Delaware GOP, which is backing Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) for the Republican Senate nomination, has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission that accuses Tea Party Express and their chosen candidate, Christine O’Donnell, of violating FEC coordination rules.

The complaint — which The Atlantic’s Chris Good links to in full here — makes two claims, one of which is basic, the other a bit more complex. First, it argues that Tea Party Express and the O’Donnell campaign have engaged in message coordination over the outside group’s advertising. This is your basic “you can’t share strategy, messaging, or resources, etc.” kind of allegation.

Second, however, the complaint argues that Tea Party Express solicited donations that were specifically earmarked to support the O’Donnell race, and that such fundraising is illegal. The Delaware GOP is making this case by arguing that federal campaign law considers earmarked funds to be the same thing as contributions to a candidate, and that Tea Party Express therefore solicited individual contributions to the O’Donnell campaign that were in excess of contribution limits.

Because the Tea Party Express didn’t actually donate its earmarked funds to O’Donnell, my guess is that the FEC, especially in its current riven state, probably won’t agree with the Delaware GOP on this one. But if it does, Good notes that it’ll have a major impact on a number of outside groups, not just Tea Party Express, that engage in the same fundraising practices.

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