You wouldn’t know it from the cable news crapstorm currently going on over Donald Trump’s 2006 bus ride with Billy Bush, but there was another Wikileaks document drop yesterday. While there’s plenty of material to dig through, the Daily Caller almost immediately highlighted one item which could involve a violation of the law on the part of the Clinton campaign. Super PACs and other outside groups spending big money on political advertising aren’t supposed to be coordinating with the campaigns they support, but at least one email exchange between Clinton campaign chair John Podesta and an organization run by Democrat super-donor George Soros clearly seems to show just such joint planning taking place.
The group is the Open Society Foundations (OSF) which is directly financed and directed by Soros, and they are working on various Social Justice Warrior issues such as “reforming” the nation’s police in support of Black Lives Matter. In the leaked exchange between Podesta and Chris Stone, the president of OSF, we see what looks to be obvious message coordination.
A December 2015 email exchange between Podesta and OSF president Chris Stone was included in the batch of Podesta’s emails released by WikiLeaks on Friday.
“Hi, John. Your policy team was asking me for ideas on police reform a couple of months ago. Here’s a concrete idea I’ve written up, and a good hook for it in Chicago,” Stone wrote.
Stone attached to the email an article he wrote that advocated putting federally-funded bureaucrats in charge of police oversight.
“Thanks Chris. Will circulate. Hope all is well,” Podesta replied.
Is this the sort of thing that anyone will notice, say nothing of bring before the FEC in the midst of such a chaotic election cycle? Proving any sort of illegal coordination between PACs and campaigns is widely acknowledged as being notoriously difficult and the FEC rarely even tries to go after anyone. But that doesn’t mean that it never happens. One case which was successfully prosecuted involved the 2006 race of Republican Congressman Joe Schwarz of Michigan, and the evidence the FEC cited looks suspiciously similar to what’s been revealed here. (Center for Public Integrity, emphasis added)
The most recent FEC investigation regarding coordination was settled in May 2009 and involved the election committee of former Rep. Joe Schwarz, R-Mich., and the Republican Main Street Partnership PAC.
The FEC uncovered emails spanning six months in 2006 between members of the PAC and the Schwarz campaign. One email revealed Schwarz campaign director Matt Marsden had contacted the PAC’s treasurer with a suggestion for a radio ad on behalf of Schwarz. One week later, two radio stations ran ads following the theme the Schwarz director suggested. Other emails revealed Schwarz staffers recommended which radio stations the PAC should target.
Unfortunately, the Schwarz case highlights how sketchy (and virtually pointless) some of these campaign finance laws are. This was a situation where they had emails in hand showing the coordination (much as we seem to have with Podesta and OSF now) and it still took the FEC three years to make their way though the case. And in the end they handed down a $2,500 fine to the campaign and that was the end of it. The Clinton team could cover a fine like that out of their donut and coffee fund for one campaign office.
Of course, coordination between campaigns and big money groups is one of those dirty little “open secrets” which everyone knows about but rarely discusses. Who knows what goes on during private phone calls and email exchanges unless a leak like this takes place? And even when you find out, it’s too easy to simply say that the campaign was just hitting a hot topic which much of the country was already talking about anyway. In the end, I don’t know if this is more of a signal that Clinton’s campaign should be prosecuted or that we should just abandon these silly rules once and for all.