When the Supreme Court decided in Citizens United that unlimited money should be able to flow from corporations and individuals into politics, it created a laughable standard for how the nation could avoid the corruption that comes with the money. Their solution: don’t allow official campaigns to coordinate with the independent groups.
Everyone knew at the time that the standard was a joke. If there was money available, if there was influence to be gained, the corporate backers and the politicians would find a way to play ball together. A new study from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, “The New Soft Money: Outside Spending In Congressional Elections” by Daniel P. Tokaji and Renata E.B. Strause, highlights just how ridiculously thin and flimsy the standard for coordination is.
In their report, the authors’ reveal the ease with which politicians are able to solicit funds from these political action committees (PAC). The distinction of coordination lies in the private communication loophole of Citizens United. Politicians can, through a simple wink-and-nod tactics, make it apparent where and how their supporting PAC should expend its funds.
“There is a high degree of cooperation between outside groups and congressional campaigns, generally through publicly-transmitted signals, even as campaign professionals tread carefully to avoid “coordination as defined by federal law.” – Report
By shrinking from private, direct communication, the campaigns are able to tell PACs what to do. According to the report, one means of communication is through the publication of press releases that indicate the needs of a campaign.
Senator Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) told the researchers, “So this whole idea well, oh, they don’t coordinate, therefore it’s really independent is just nonsense. If you look at who makes up these organizations, on all side, they’re loaded with political operatives. They know the way these campaigns run, modern campaigns. They can see for themselves what’s up on the air. They can see the polling, a lot of it’s public. Some of it’s, you know not public but pretty much the same thing as what’s public. So they don’t need to talk to anybody in the campaign in order to know what to do.”
Adding to the problem of indirect coordination is the revolving door of staff between the campaigns and PACs. Staff leaving one group and going to another is one of the simplest ways for a campaigns needs to be communicated with a PAC. The individuals that work for a campaign know intimately what the needs are and will have no need to receive explicit instruction.
Overall, the report paints a bleak picture of practically explicit coordination between campaigns and PACs. It is exactly what everyone feared and exactly what the Supreme Court pretended it was preventing.