Is New Republican ‘Super PAC’ Legal?

May 18, 2011 5:10 a.m.

Republican lawyer James Bopp has been chipping away at federal campaign regulations for years. He’s the guy affiliated with the Republican National Lawyers Association who was behind the Citizens United case, which allowed for unlimited corporate campaign spending to influence elections. But his latest plan for a “Republican Super PAC,” say good government groups, clearly violates federal law, and they’re warning GOP members they’d be breaking the rules if they solicit unlimited contributions on behalf of the group.The crux of Bopp’s plan for the Republican Super PAC, which Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones dubbed a “super-duper PAC,” is his belief that the laws banning politicians from coordinating with political action committees “only applies to spending, not to the fundraising.”

Some campaign finance lawyers say the plan for politicians to encourage donors to give to entities capable of making independent expenditures while claiming they wouldn’t be influencing how the PAC spent those donations is flat out illegal.

“In our view, the proposed efforts of this RNC ‘shadow group’ would violate multiple provisions of the federal campaign finance laws,” Trevor Potter, former FEC chairman and current president of the Campaign Legal Center, and Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, said in a statement to reporters last night.

Given the way the PAC is set up, Potter and Wertheimer say it “is exactly the type of group that is described by the law as an entity ‘that is directly or indirectly established, financed, maintained or controlled’ by a national party committee and that is a group controlled by ‘agents’ of the RNC who are acting on behalf of the RNC.”

“First, this constitutes an illegal scheme to violate the ban on the raising or spending of soft money by national party committees. Second, the proposed activities would violate the ban on federal officeholders soliciting unlimited soft money donations in connection with a federal election,” they said. “Each of these bans has been upheld by the Supreme Court, and neither of them was affected by the Court’s decision in Citizens United.”

The face that good government groups oppose schemes to let more money flow into the election process isn’t exactly breaking news. But Potter’s political background — he was general counsel to the Rick Scott 2010 gubernatorial campaign, John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns and more recently is representing Stephen Colbert — indicate this request could at least make the FEC ask a few questions. Notably, Bopp didn’t even request an advisory opinion from the FEC on whether his plan would be legal — he just went ahead with it.

“It’s outrageous,” Potter told Dan Froomkin. “He’s actually going to do it and just dare anyone to go after him. I think what he’s gambling on here is that, even if someone goes after him, they won’t do anything until after the election.”

Bopp, for one, isn’t concerned, telling Danny Yadron of the Wall Street Journal that he expected opposition from campaign finance reformers and that it didn’t matter.

“The Supreme Court doesn’t care, and I don’t care, and the [Federal Election Commission] doesn’t care,” Bopp said. “No one that matters cares.”

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