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Rules of the Game: Democrats' Super PAC Promotion Signals Shift

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Freshman Democrats, including Murphy, appear in an ad touting House Majority PAC. Some watchdog groups say the ad strikes a blow to the chances of changing campaign finance laws.

The FEC coordination rules contradict election laws, argue advocates of campaign finance changes who have successfully challenged them in court. The commission’s failure to write tougher coordination rules is just one of many FEC breakdowns, according to watchdogs engaged in an ongoing campaign to pressure President Barack Obama to appoint new commissioners to the agency.

The FEC just lost one of its six members with the departure of Democrat Cynthia Bauerly, and most of its remaining commissioners’ terms have expired.

“I don’t see how the president can avoid this issue any longer,” Holman said.

A growing number of super PACs are being set up with the express purpose of backing a single candidate; it’s only a matter of time before every member of Congress has his or her own super PAC, election law experts predict.

The House Majority PAC’s “ads on stem cell research made a big difference in my campaign,” Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., declares in the recent video.

The super PAC spent $2.4 million helping defeat Murphy’s GOP opponent, former Rep. Allen B. West. The PAC “gets” the importance of “persuading and motivating the Latino vote,” chimes in Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., in the video.

“Here you have the candidates speaking in some detail about what was going on in their election, and why the intervention of this group was so critical, what issues it ran ads on were helpful,” said Lawrence Norton, co-chairman of the political law group at Venable and former general counsel at the FEC. “I haven’t seen anything like this before.”

Murphy, Ruiz and several other Democrats in the video did not return calls seeking comment. The other Democrats appearing in the spot are Reps. Ami Bera of California, Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut, Sean Patrick Maloney of New York and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

The National Republican Congressional Committee was quick to deride the video as an “unprecedented” example of Democrats pivoting from campaign trail attacks on big money to “cutting a commercial for an outside group that they are barred from coordinating with.”

“As long as Karl Rove and the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson continue their efforts to overwhelm Democrats, then Democrats have to fight back,” Stone said, referring to the leading pro-GOP organizers and donors.

But proponents of an election law overhaul, who had received assurances from incoming freshman Democrats that they would back such fixes as campaign finance disclosure and federal matching funds legislation, see the House Majority PAC video as a bad sign.

“I expected some heroes to emerge out of this battle,” Holman said. “And instead we are getting people who are beginning to accept the Citizens United world, and trying to figure out how to play in it.”

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