Common Cause Urges Federal Prosecutors to Closely Monitor Links Between Super PACs and Candidates

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  • Dale Eisman
Call Follows Groundbreaking Guilty Plea in Virginia Case

The admission by a Virginia political operative that he helped engineer creation of an “independent” super PAC and then illegally coordinated its spending of $325,000 with his management of a congressional campaign is likely the tip of an iceberg of campaign finance violations, Common Cause said Thursday.

“We congratulate the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia for stepping up to enforce the law,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause’s senior vice president for strategy and programs. “Federal prosecutors across America should take a cue from their actions and closely review super PAC spending. Given the Federal Elections Commission’s inability to enforce campaign finance laws, there’s every reason to believe that there are other super PACs illegally working in tandem with campaigns and political parties.”

The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC triggered an explosion in the number of super PACs, which can legally collect and spend unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose candidates. The groups must remain independent from candidate and party committees however.

There are now more than 1,300 registered super PACs, which together invested nearly $350 million in the 2014 campaign. Dozens of the groups were created to support a single candidate and in many cases were founded and/or staffed by personal or political associates of the candidate.

At the state level, Common Cause leaders around the country are pushing for passage of laws to shut down individual-candidate Super PACs and strengthen the rules prohibiting coordination between candidates and outside spending groups.

The Virginia case centered on the National Republican Victory Fund, a super PAC founded by a group including longtime GOP operative Tyler Harber. The committee spent about $460,000 on behalf of Republican candidates in 2012, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The total included $325,000 in support of Chris Perkins, whose unsuccessful campaign against Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly was managed by Harber.

Harber’s guilty plea comes a day after the FEC heard extensive testimony concerning apparent coordination between super PACs and candidates, activity that has gone unchecked thanks to partisan gridlock on the commission.