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While some campaign lawyers privately question the appropriateness of this arrangement, it’s unclear whether Forti and the NRCC would have been legally capable of running an IE campaign to defend Reynolds, whose political standing plummeted in his Buffalo-based district after the sacandal surrounding ex-Rep. Mark Foley’s (R-Fla.) behavior with House pages four weeks ago.
The RNC ads went on the air Oct. 18, according to filings with FEC. In all, the committee’s IE unit has spent more than $935,000 on media buys attacking Davis and another $90,000 on polling, research and production for those ads.
In the past two weeks, Reynolds has solidified his position in public and private polls, edging slightly ahead in what some analysts consider a race that will be determined by how sound his voter turnout operation is.
Without speaking directly to other candidates and campaigns, Forti has for the last four years been one of Reynolds’ closest political advisers, talking to him on a near-daily basis.
Such close interaction with Reynolds would put Forti — and therefore the entire NRCC IE unit — close to or over the legal line in running ads against Davis or in support of Reynolds. Under guidelines established by the FEC, any “substantial discussion” between Forti and Reynolds or his campaign staff in Buffalo about what the NRCC chairman was doing in his own campaign would cross the line of coordinating between the candidate and the party committee’s IE unit.
“A discussion is substantial within the meaning of this paragraph if information about the candidate’s or political party committee’s campaign plans, projects, activities or needs is conveyed to a person paying for the communication,” the FEC wrote a few years ago.
McGahn declined to address whether it would have been legal for the NRCC to mount an IE campaign defending Reynolds. And Forti, in an apparent nod to the coordination issue, said of the RNC’s ads: “I had no idea the RNC was doing anything until I saw the ad on TV.”
Further complicating the legal hoops of the ad campaign attacking Davis, Terry Nelson has been the point man for the RNC’s IE campaigns, focusing on Senate races in Ohio, Tennessee and Missouri. Unlike Forti, Nelson is an outside consultant not employed by the RNC in any fashion other than his contract to do the IE campaign, working from his own offices.
But Nelson serves as a consultant on the Reynolds campaign, as well as many other House GOP campaigns, making it illegal for him to mount an IE campaign benefiting of Reynolds. Instead, the RNC employed the GOP media firm of Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm to do the ads on behalf of Reynolds.
Similar to Nelson’s role as outside consultant running the RNC IE campaign, Curt Anderson is in charge of the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s IE unit this cycle. He works out of his consulting office.
In the 2004 cycle, Anderson ran the RNC’s IE unit. One GOP strategist who worked for the RNC in 2004 said that Anderson appeared inside the committee’s walls just once that year: to sign the paperwork as director of the IE unit.