Ask any campaign-finance expert about Super PACs and you’ll likely keep hearing one word: “coordination.” That’s because Super PACs — the super-powered groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money from anyone — have just one crucial restriction on their powers: By law, they’re not supposed to coordinate with candidates.
Think that sounds clear? Think again.
“The restrictions on interactions between candidates and Super PACs are far more modest than the public believes,” said Paul Ryan, a lawyer with Campaign Legal Center, a campaign-finance advocacy group.
So long as candidates and Super PACs don’t discuss the particulars of their election spending — such as exactly where or how long their election ads will run — they’re free to discuss strategy and candidates can even help fundraise. One result: A presidential candidate can ask supporters — even his own father — to give to a Super PAC without it being “coordinated.” Or a group could plan to produce a “fully coordinated” ad with a candidate that it argues is uncoordinated.
“Coordination limits are essentially a joke if you want to avoid them,” said Michael Franz, an associate professor of government at Bowdoin College.
At least one professional joke-teller agrees: Comedian Stephen Colbert recently seized on the issue, ridiculing how some groups seem to be cutting it laughably close with the law.
Fundamentally, coordination rules are no laughing matter. Just ask ...