A Healthy Record
Yesterday Politico reported that a Hillary Clinton "surrogate" was planning on calling for the release of Bernie Sanders's medical records as part of (whatever that means) a broader attack of his healthcare proposals. Jeff Weaver, the capaign manager for Sanders, called this "one of the most desperate and vile attacks imaginable," which is very strange, because it's probably the least vile of the attacks Clinton or her supporters has made on Sanders this past week. Calling for medical records is standard poitical white noise, and the fact that it was probably timed to be a question just prior to the last democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses doesn't seem to be particularly outrageous in the realm of American politics. Turns out it isn't that effective either. The Sanders team used it as a fundraising opportunity, and the Clinton campaign has already distanced themselves from the issue following a backlash.
So why am I mentioning such an uninteresting news item? Because the only interesting part is that it was not the Clinton team exactly who brought up the issue. It was David Brock, the "founder of the Correct the Record PAC, which coordinates directly with Clinton’s campaign." This line from the Politico story caught my attention, because Super PACS are not allowed to coordinate with a presidential campaign. In fact, this very hard-to-verify rule exists to allow Super PACS to raise unlimited funding from donors, unlike official campaigns, which are capped. That's the reason why PACs exist in the first place, and the reason why campaign finance reformers hate them.
But it seems like Correct the Record thinks it has found some loophole which was designed for bloggers, where they can coordinate rapid-response content on the Internet in cooperation with the Clinton camp. The Washington Post covered this today:
But Correct the Record believes it can avoid the coordination ban by relying on a 2006 Federal Election Commission regulation that declared that content posted online for free, such as blogs, is off limits from regulation. The “Internet exemption” said that such free postings do not constitute campaign expenditures, allowing independent groups to consult with candidates about the content they post on their sites. By adopting the measure, the FEC limited its online jurisdiction to regulating paid political ads.
The rules “totally exempt individuals who engage in political activity on the Internet from the restrictions of the campaign finance laws. The exemption for individual Internet activity in the final rules is categorical and unqualified,” then-FEC Chairman Michael E. Toner said at the time, according to a 2006 Washington Post story. The regulation “protects Internet activities by individuals in all forms, including e-mailing, linking, blogging, or hosting a Web site," said Toner, now a prominent Republican campaign finance attorney.
The PAC now says they are not relying on the Internet exemption but some other related exemptions written into the campaign finance laws. In any event, there is some skepticism as to whether or not this is legal:
Advocates for stronger enforcement of campaign finance rules said the group's maneuver around the coordination ban effectively circumvents the limits on how much individuals can give to candidates.
“The Internet exemption wasn’t meant for a political committee to raise unlimited money in coordination with a candidate,” said Larry Noble, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. “It was meant for bloggers. It was not intended to be this massive operation where you are outsourcing your rapid response team.”
Fred Wertheimer, president of the advocacy group Democracy 21, said “it certainly looks like this new operation will violate the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which prevents an entity set up by a candidate or acting on behalf of a candidate, from raising or spending unlimited contributions, or soft money.”
Time will tell whether or not this will be a problem for Hillary Clinton. Either way, it highlights what a charade and fraud our campaign finance system is. It also ought to remind everyone that there is only one person in this race, in either primary, who has been serious about campaign finance reform. I'll give you a hint: he's old and healthy.