Perry campaign coordinating with SuperPAC?

Over at Politico, Ben Smith highlights a pair of videos supporting the candidacy of Texas Governor Rick Perry which are raising questions about possible election law violations. It’s a serious charge – if it turned out to bear fruit – but at first glance it appears to leave enough wiggle room for an entire ranch full of earthworms.

The last shred of regulation preventing unlimited money from flowing into presidential campaigns is the requirement that campaigns not “coordinate” their communications with Super PACs and the other independent groups pouring money into that race.

Rick Perry’s campaign for president appears to be testing the limits of that regulation: In its Thanksgiving video, the campaign uses two clips from an slickly produced advertisement aired on Perry’s behalf by Make Us Great Again, a SuperPAC run by a longtime Perry associate, Mike Toomey.

You can watch the two videos yourself to compare and contrast. (The Perry video and the MUGA video.)

As Ben notes, it’s pretty obvious that at least two clips from Perry’s video were taken straight from the SuperPAC advertisement. (The handshake at 1:35 and the shot of Perry in front of the flag at 2:11 from the campaign’s ad.) The questions to be answered include how, where and when Team Perry got the footage, if there was any overt collusion between the groups, and how serious the allegation is.

Going in reverse order, I can tell you from personal experience that people absolutely do pay attention to these things and take them quite seriously. While managing communications for our congressional campaign in the 2010 race, we found ourselves in a situation where our campaign in NY-22 began to receive some national attention during the final months before the election. This lead to American Crossroads jumping in with some ads of their own and a huge media buy. A reporter from the local paper who I worked with frequently was quick to grab some time with me as soon as the news broke. She’s pretty good at her job, and enthusiastically asked me if I’d gotten to meet Karl Rove (wouldn’t that be fabulous!?!) and what I thought of the quality and development of their ads. Fortunately, we had found out about the ads the same way she did – by reading it in the Wall St. Journal – and I had no information for her. But she was clearly trying to trip me up and get me to indicate that our campaign had coordinated with Rove’s SuperPAC, which would have been the headline the next day had we done so.

So in this week’s case, is there any indication that Perry’s team has been working with MUGA? The idea that the FEC can actually monitor and prevent every conversation between old friends is a silly one, but you need a bit more of a smoking gun than this. Would it have been difficult for Perry’s team to obtain the footage without getting it directly from the PAC? (A Perry spokesman said the clips were, “taken from public domain.”) The links I provided above are from YouTube! Anybody with the Firefox add-on “Download Helper” could snag them. A shop with more high end hardware and software could doubtless snatch a production quality copy.

With that in mind, the only remaining question would be whether or not this was a case of fair use, or if the ads were considered public domain. And for that to be an issue, MUGA would probably have to file a complaint against Perry for stealing their material. Unlikely is probably not a strong enough word there.

Unless somebody has been talking out of school and there’s more waiting to come to light not covered in Politico, this looks like fairly thin gruel for a scandal. Plus, it’s a rather geeky topic and lacks the “sexy factor” of more salacious scandals. Somehow I don’t think this one has legs given all the other stories fighting for front page space in a crowded primary race.