The Republican National Committee has now spent more than $1 million trying to shore up the re-election of National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), who’s been the sole House beneficiary of the RNC’s independent expenditure program.
With a war chest that dwarfed the Democratic National Committee, the RNC’s independent expenditure program was originally intended to be spent exclusively on Senate races by building a firewall around a trio of its most endangered battlegrounds.
But a collision of unforeseen events, including the legal and political complexities that made it virtually impossible for the NRCC to spend money defending its own chairman, has forced the RNC to enter the fray on behalf of Reynolds — who earlier this fall was considered a safe bet to win re-election.
Officially, the RNC said it is on the air attacking Reynolds’ opponent, multimillionaire Jack Davis (D), because of its financial standing and support for Reynolds.
“We are in a position to do so,” said Danny Diaz, spokesman for the RNC. “This is just further proof of our commitment to Chairman Reynolds and maintaining the GOP majority.”
However, the make-up of the NRCC’s own independent expenditure unit also may have played a role in forcing the RNC’s hand to be the GOP committee on air on behalf of Reynolds. Because the NRCC’s independent expenditure unit is run by Carl Forti, whose main job is communications director for Reynolds at the committee, it’s unclear whether the NRCC could have legally run an IE campaign without violating federal laws that prohibit coordination between individual campaigns, IE units and the party committees.
And some GOP strategists privately noted that, beyond the potential legal complications of an IE campaign benefiting Reynolds, it would create an appearance problem for the NRCC chairman among his fellow lawmakers if his committee’s IE unit steered money away from other critical races in order to benefit his own campaign.
For the last two election cycles, Forti has served as NRCC communications director and also has overseen the committee’s IE unit, making him the only director of any IE unit who also works simultaneously inside a party committee headquarters.
Forti, as well as NRCC Counsel Don McGahn, have said this set-up is well within the bounds of campaign finance laws enacted in 2002 and the subsequent rulings issued by the Federal Election Commission.
“I’m really confident that we’re not even close to the line,” McGahn said recently.
To wear both hats, Forti maintains an office inside the NRCC headquarters on First Street Southeast, where he focuses on national messaging and speaks on a daily basis with national reporters, and an office for the IE unit across the street at the corner of First and D streets Southeast, above Tortilla Coast restaurant.
Forti said he doesn’t talk with campaigns or candidates — McGahn said that job is left to the committee’s political director and field director, who talk on a daily basis with them — and that he gains no inside knowledge from his communications director that would violate the prohibition against coordinating ad campaigns.
“That doesn’t give me strategic knowledge,” he said.