But will they do much about the alleged Twitter coordination between the RNC and outside groups, as reported by CNN’s Chris Moody? Probably not, because (a) election law is “murky” on this point, and (b) proving the kind of coordination prohibited by election law would likely be impossible anyway. Nonetheless, FEC vice-chair Ann Ravel expressed interest and dismay over the report, and might open a probe anyway:
Republicans and outside groups used anonymous Twitter accounts to share internal polling data ahead of the midterm elections, CNN has learned, a practice that raises questions about whether they violated campaign finance laws that prohibit coordination.
The Twitter accounts were hidden in plain sight. The profiles were publicly available but meaningless without knowledge of how to find them and decode the information, according to a source with knowledge of the activities.
The practice is the latest effort in the quest by political operatives to exploit the murky world of campaign finance laws at a time when limits on spending in politics are eroding and regulators are being defanged.
That led to Ravel’s statement, which hinted that the “issue may come before us” … but not much more:
@asmith83 Shows that tech changing politics-this issue may come before us – but coordination rules sadly murky
— Ann Ravel (@AnnMRavel) November 17, 2014
Frankly, this seems like much ado about nothing, although Chris Moody’s digging is certainly impressive. The underlying message here is that the outside groups coordinated with the NRCC by giving out their polling in the districts. And the reaction to that should be … so what? The coded tweets are cute and clever, but the polling data of an outside group is probably no better or worse than that of a campaign, and potentially skewed for their own purposes.
As one expert on election law told Chris, that’s not the kind of coordination that FEC regulations bar anyway:
“It may bend common sense, but not necessarily the law,” said Daniel Tokaji, a professor of Constitutional Law at Ohio State University, told CNN. “A lot of things you and I would consider coordination are not coordination under the law. I don’t think sharing polling data is going to be enough to establish that the campaign was materially involved in decisions about content, target audience or timing.”
If this replaced campaign polling for the NRCC and the candidates (nothing in the report suggests that), then it might be more of an issue, but that wouldn’t be a coordination violation. It would be another type of campaign-finance violation — an unreported in-kind contribution. It could also be a tax issue for tax-exempt outside groups whose exemption relies on their separation from electoral campaigns.
If anything, this demonstrates the silly nature of campaign-finance regulation. To paraphrase a ubiquitous part of a toddler’s library, everybody polls, and all the time. The work needed to communicate this data probably outweighed whatever benefit the polling gave the NRCC. Why do this anyway, when a simple phone call would suffice and leave no paper trail?
And let’s point out, too, that if we eliminated the current campaign-finance regulations and replaced it with immediate disclosure instead, there wouldn’t be any incentives for this kind of outside-party coordination because the money would move openly to the candidates and the parties, and the accountability for its reception and use would be clear-cut. It’s only “sadly murky” because Congress keeps trying to double down on a failed reform approach that infringes on free speech while giving only the veneer of legal oversight to the system.