Outside Group Help for McCain Allowable, After All
By Matthew Mosk
Earlier this week, Democrats raised concerns about what they said was a disconcerting pattern involving Sen. John McCain's campaign advertising and commercials being aired by the advocacy group Vets for Freedom.
It appeared to the Democrats that when Vets for Freedom started airing $1 million in television ads promoting McCain's Iraq strategy and echoing some of his campaign message, the group might be coordinating the placement of the ads with the McCain campaign. Officials with Vets for Freedom and McCain campaign manager Rick Davis both flatly denied their efforts were coordinated.
Such coordination between a third-party group and a political campaign is typically a major no-no under the provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms that seek to eliminate that kind of cross talk. But maybe Vets for Freedom and the McCain campaign don't have anything to worry about.
Today, veteran campaign finance lawyer and reform advocate Fred Wertheimer pointed out that coordination would have been perfectly allowable in this instance.
The reason? According to Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, there is a loophole in Federal Election Commission regulations that says, so long as the ads in question don't mention a candidate or political party, there is no restriction on coordination.
"Based on the regulations that exist now, a candidate can coordinate with a third party spender on ads that don't mention any candidate or party. That's just a factual statement. They can coordinate," Wertheimer said. "Clearly we need regulations to deal with this kind of situation, and right now we don't have any."
Concern about this loophole was raised with FEC lawyers in 2006, in a footnote of a letter sent by Wertheimer and other top campaign lawyers. It identified "a flaw in the 2002 rule ... [that has] permitted coordination right up to the day of the election on 'thematic' ads -- ads that echo a candidate's positions on key issues but do not mention the name of the candidate (or party). Such ads ... could be of significant benefit to the candidate, particularly if coordinated."
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