Green Room

Is Reid Campaign Hiding Its Activities To Evade Campaign Finance Laws?

posted at 8:38 am on July 8, 2010 by

Harry Reid’s campaign and the Nevada State Democratic Party appear to be playing games with federal campaign finance laws as to expenditures to maintain and promote the fake “TheRealSharronAngle.com” website.

That fake website was launched by the Reid campaign, as a press release from the Reid Campaign made clear, Reid Campaign Re-Launches Sharron Angle’s Campaign Website:

As reported by Politico, the original Disclaimer at the bottom of the fake website stated that it was paid for by the Reid campaign.

The Reid campaign was forced to take down the fake website because the Reid campaign was misleading the public, and also obtaining names and contact information on Angle supporters under false pretenses.

After the fake website was taken down, the web address “TheRealSharronAngle.com” was re-directed to a cheesy website supposedly run by the Nevada State Democratic Party (see below), titled “Sharon Angle’s Underground Bunker.”

The Reid campaign then scrubbed the fake website, and re-launched it in a manner which was less deceptive, including eliminating the forms for Angle supporters to provide names and e-mail addresses and to sign up to volunteer.

But an interesting thing happened after the Reid campaign scrubbed the fake Angle website.

Now, the Disclaimer at the bottom claims that the website has no connection to the Reid campaign: “PAID FOR BY THE NEVADA STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY. NOT AUTHORIZED BY ANY CANDIDATE OR CANDIDATE’S COMMITTEE.”

But clearly this Disclaimer is not true. The fake website was a creation of the Reid campaign, and continues to be run by the Reid campaign even after the scrubbed version was re-launched (emphasis mine):

“While we disagree with the assertions in Angle’s “cease and desist” letter, we took the website down temporarily to make it more clear that the intent is solely to point out how far Sharron Angle is running from her own embarrassing record,” said Reid campaign manager Brandon Hall. “We are not attempting to deceive anyone. Unfortunately, that point was lost on Angle’s campaign as evidenced by the threat of legal action to get her own website taken down. We made minor changes to address her frivolous concerns and now hope the new Sharron Angle can now focus on explaining why the old Sharron Angle’s views are so unacceptable.”

So if the Reid campaign launched and then re-launched the fake Angle website, and controls the content, why does the Disclaimer now claim no connection to the Reid campaign?

The answer almost certainly lies in the campaign finance laws, which limit how much money (or valuable goods or services) a state campaign committee can donate to or coordinate with a candidate’s campaign.

By claiming the fake Angle website has no connection to or coordination with the Reid campaign, the Nevada State Democratic Party would not have to include such expenditures towards their limits, allowing it to spend more money to help the Reid campaign.

Here is how the Congressional Research Service summarizes the law (emphasis mine):

Federal campaign finance law provides political parties with three major options for providing financial support to House, Senate, and presidential candidates: (1) direct contributions, (2) coordinated expenditures, and (3) independent expenditures. With direct contributions, parties give money (or in the case of in-kind contributions, financially valuable services) to individual campaigns, but such contributions are subject to strict limits; most party committees are limited to direct contributions of $5,000 per candidate, per election….

Coordinated expenditures allow parties (notwithstanding other provisions in the law regulating contributions to campaigns) to buy goods or services on behalf of a campaign, and to discuss those expenditures with the campaign. Candidates may request that parties make coordinated expenditures, and may request specific purchases, but parties may not give this money directly to campaigns. Because parties are the spending agents, they (not candidates) report their coordinated expenditures to the FEC. Coordinated party expenditures are subject to limits based on office sought, state, and voting-age population (VAP). Exact amounts are determined by formula.

(Per the CRS, the Citizens United case has not changed the these expenditure limits.)

It is unclear how the Nevada State Democratic Party will report the costs associated with the fake Angle website.  The Disclaimer at the bottom of the fake Angle website indicates, however, that the Party plans on claiming that the expenditures are neither directly to nor coordinated with the Reid campaign, a clearly false factual assertion.

One has to wonder how many other activities by the Nevada State Democratic Party really are being controlled by the Reid campaign, and therefore should count towards the spending limits.  For example, the “Sharron Angle’s Underground Bunker” website has the same disclaimer as the fake Angle website; is the Reid campaign really behind that other website as well?

I have a strong suspicion that Kelly Steele, the person tasked by the Reid campaign to “vaporize” Reid’s political opponents, is behind the “Sharron Angle’s Underground Bunker” website. 

On June 23, after I posted a negative analysis of the Reid campaign strategy, the Twitter accounts of both Steele and Angle’s Bunker signed up to follow me at precisely the same minute.  It would be an amazing coincidence if Steele and the person behing the other website acted at precisely the same minute.

If the Reid campaign wants to issue a denial that it has any connection to the Sharron Angle’s Underground Bunker website, I would be happy to post that denial as an update.  If there is a connection, the Reid campaign should come clean.

What is clear is that by now claiming the fake Angle website has no connection to and is not coordinated with the Reid campaign, the Reid campaign is playing games with the federal campaign finance laws. 

The question is, what else is the Reid campaign secretly doing behind the scenes to “vaporize” Sharron Angle, and are those activities properly being accounted for in accordance with the federal campaign finance laws?

Cross-posted with updates at Legal Insurrection Blog

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cmsinaz on July 8, 2010 at 12:36 PM

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cmsinaz on July 8, 2010 at 12:36 PM

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Ed Morrissey on July 8, 2010 at 4:58 PM