THE IRONY… Talk about high irony. The Mayday PAC, formed in the last election cycle as “the super PAC to end all super PACs,” and to bring about substantial campaign finance reform, is now being charged by a conservative group with violating campaign finance laws.
The Center for Competitive Politics has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission charging that the super PAC headed by Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig didn’t add the proper disclaimers with specifically required wording to its radio and television ads in New Hampshire. Those independent expenditure ads supported candidate for the U.S. Sen. Jim Rubens. While some of the ads praised Rubens, others attacked eventual nominee Scott Brown, who lost in the general election to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
Lessig denied the charges, saying the ads “fully identified Mayday.US as its sponsor.”
Mayday spent about $1.6 million in New Hampshire on Rubens’ behalf. It also endorsed Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, but there was no evidence of that support in her general election loss to Frank Guinta.
The specific CCP complaint is that Mayday left out a phrase in the legally required disclaimer at the end of the ads. The Center, which wants fewer campaign finance regulations rather than more, says burdensome disclaimer requirements are unnecessary, and that disclaimers should be shortened substantially.
But, said the group’s complaint, “no matter how silly or pointless these hyper-technical disclaimer requirements may seem, the law is the law,” and, it says, Mayday violated the law.
The group says that in two pro-Rubens ads, Mayday failed to include the full disclaimer required by law. The disclaimers in both ads say: “Paid for by Mayday PAC. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.”
The ads did not include the required phrase that Mayday PAC “is responsible for the content of this advertising.”
The Center said Mayday also aired eight radio ads in support of Rubens that broke the federal law on disclaimers.
The radio ads, the complaint says, did not say that Mayday was responsible for the content of the ads. They did not say that they were “not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee,” instead using the phrase that Mayday was “not affiliated with any candidate or campaign,” which, the complaint says, “may or may not be the same thing.”
Also, the complaint says, five of the eight ads did not fully state the required contact information for the Mayday PAC, as required by law.
“The irony, in the end, is that a group that supports more regulation of political speech flouted existing campaign finance laws,” the complaint said. “Mayday PAC simply disregarded the law’s clear disclaimer requirements in at least two television advertisements, eight radio advertisements,” as well as two mail pieces in an Arizona congressional race.
The Center went so far as to estimate that by ignoring the phrase “not responsible for the content of this advertising” in its ads, Mayday was able to devote approximately six seconds more to its message than other group that fully complied with the disclaimer requirements. And in these ads, every millisecond is vital.
As a result, CCP argued, Mayday PAC “should pay sanctions at least equivalent to the cost of the airtime used to communicate its message in lieu of the proper disclaimer.”
The center said four of the eight radio ads were 30 second spots and four were 60 second spots.
“Assuming the buys for the radio ads were roughly equal…Mayday PAC saved approximately 10 percent of its advertising costs compared to other non-candidate (groups). This amount s amount is not trivial. Mayday PAC’s FEC reports state that $266,783 (not counting production costs) was spent on these ads.” Its failure to abide by the law, CCP said, “saved the group over $26,500.”
The Center noted that the FEC In the past “has forgiven disclaimer violations that it determined were oversights by amateurs or low-budget campaigns.” But it noted that Mayday PAC is a professional organization with “over $10 million in funding, led by the director of a leading academic center of ethics and supported by the resources and expertise of seasoned political operatives.” One of those operatives was Bill Burton, founder and creator of the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA, believed to be the largest super PAC created to date.
Overall, said CCP president David Keating, “The hypocrisy is stunning. The Mayday PAC board and advisors constitute a who’s who of advocates for more speech regulations, yet either they didn’t understand the already complex law or they simply ignored it. If it’s the latter, what Mayday PAC seems to be saying to the public is that if you are big enough, and have the ‘right’ advisors, and care enough about campaign finance regulation, the law doesn’t apply to you. The FEC should make crystal clear that the law does apply to groups such as Mayday PAC.”
But Mayday, defending its ads, said it was ironic that CCP, which has been “skeptics” of full disclosure, was now complaining that Mayday did not fully disclose.
In a statement on the Mayday PAC web site, Lessig said, “Every Mayday.US ad fully identified Mayday.US as its sponsor. And unlike super PACs that accept dark money, Mayday.US discloses every contribution (over $200) as well. None could be confused about whom the ad was from, and anyone who cared could identify whom the PAC was funded by.
“We believe in disclosure rules and will defend our ads at the FEC,” said Lessig. “But I’m not quite sure what this complaint says about the current policy position of the Center for Competitive Politics. The Center has long been disclosure skeptics. Their website touts their work ‘to ensure that disclosure requirements do not become overly burdensome.’
“And,” he continued, “the Center testified against provisions of a proposed Massachusetts disclosure law because in its view the law ‘forced (citizens) to engage in government-required speech with many unnecessary words.’ As they went on to note: ‘Ultimately, it is hard to understand why the proposed disclaimer is superior to a simple one required by many other states, such as “Paid for by American Action for the Environment.” All donors are already publicly reported.’
“Perhaps their filing against us — triggering an expensive proceeding for us and for the FEC — indicates they no longer take this position,” said Lessig.
Taking particular interest is Brown’s former campaign manager, Colin Reed.
“As the head of Harvard’s ethics department and a self-proclaimed crusader against money in politics,” Reed said, “Professor Lessig ought to know better. Before lecturing the rest of us about the need for new campaign finance rules, Professor Lessig should start abiding by the existing requirements. His casual dismissal of his PAC’s multiple federal violations is equally troubling, as it gave his super PAC an unfair tactical advantage in the attack ads he was sponsoring. Sadly, this ‘do as I say but not as I do (or the law demands)’ mentality is what people have unfortunately come to expect from liberal academics like Professor Lessig.”
WEBB FAN IN NH. As former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb begins his exploration of a run for President in 2016, he begins in New Hampshire with at least one long-time friend who is willing to go to the mat for his fellow Marine.
William Schuler, a North Hampton Republican, has known Democrat Webb for 46 years, he told Granite Reports on Friday.
“We went through basic training together and we were deployed to Vietnam at the same time,” Schuler said. He said he stays in touch with the former Secretary of the Navy and was instrumental in bringing Webb to New Hampshire last May to keynote an event for Veterans Count, a group dedicated to providing “critical and timely financial assistance and services, when no other resource is available, to veterans, service members and their families,” according to its mission statement.
Schuler, who retired five years ago as the CEO of the Portsmouth Regional Hospital, called Webb “an incredible leader. Everybody at the Veterans Count dinner in May were tremendously impressed by him. He has never forgotten the troops and the people he served with, and his is impeccably honest.
“No politician I have met has the leadership skills that he has,” Schuler said. “He is seeking office not because he wants but because he thinks the country needs it.”
Schuler said that Webb could thrive in New Hampshire because he has proven himself to be a strong retail campaigner.
But how would he fare in a Democratic primary against the Hillary Clinton juggernaut?
“I don’t know,” Schuler said. “I know on the one hand that the Democratic Party has shifted so far to the left that someone in the center would have a difficult time, but my sense is that people are tiring of that kind of extremism and may be interested in someone with more grounding.”
And although Clinton is a former Secretary of State, Webb, said, Schuler “is exceedingly knowledgeabIe of the Middle East — much more knowledgeable of the other Democratic candidate.
“If he was President and something happened at Benghazi, I guarantee you someone would have shown up. If he was President and the VA scandal arose on his watch, I guarantee you he’d be walking through the halls of the VA hospitals finding out what went wrong.”
He said Webb would have given full support to the Navy Seals who killed Osama Bin Laden and “if there was a Republican congress and the Senate and House were Republican, he’d be walking up to Capitol Hill and going into the rooms himself and negotiating, as difficult as that might be.
“Unlike some of the other candidates, he’s done something with his life.”
WHAT THEY SPENT. After a $30 million U.S. Senate election, it’s quite a contrast to report that the election for New Hampshire Speaker of the House was a $10,000 affair.
According to their latest campaign finance reports, caucus winner Bill O’Brien raised and spent about $3,600, about $2,000 of it loaned from himself; Gene Chandler had raised $3,178, including a $3,078 transfer from his state representative election committee, through Nov. 12. And Laurie Sanborn, who dropped out of the Speaker’s race due to her husband, Sen. Andy Sanborn’s illness, raised $3,100 – including a $1,000 transfer from her own reelection campaign committee and $2,000 from Patricia Humphrey, the wife of former Sen. Gordon Humphrey.
Additional reports must be filed on or before Nov. 26 and Dec. 17.
CRUZ, PERRY CONTRIBUTE. The conservative House PAC, House Republican Victory PAC, chaired by O’Brien, received a $2,500 contribution on Nov. 3 from potential presidential candidate Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s Jobs, Grown and Freedom PAC. Earlier, it had received a $2,500 contribution from Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
BILL O’BRIEN 2.0 That’s what they’re calling it in his inner circle.
O’Brien, we’ve learned, has already met with Gov. Maggie Hassan and has spoken with soon-to-be-House Democratic (Minority) Leader Steve Shurtleff.
“We want to find areas where we have agreements,” said an O’Brien confidant. “Obviously we will disagree on matters, but we want to do it respectfully and we want to respect not only individual lawmakers but also the 3,000 people each one of them represent. We’re very cognizant of that.”
The source said Republicans are comparing O’Brien’s new approach to outgoing Speaker Terie Norelli, who, Republicans say, was more partisan and contentious in her first term as Speaker than in her second term.
“Everybody needs to give Bill the opportunity to make that transition,” the source said.
LEAVING MARILINDA. The midterm election is becoming ancient history, but one epilogue is the huge disparity in outside spending in the 2nd District U.S. House race between Democratic Rep. Ann Kuster and Republican challenger Marilinda Garcia.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org, outside groups spent $4.7 million against Garcia and $382,000 in her favor. By contrast, Kuster was the target of $2.2 million in outside advertising against her and $87,000 in her favor.
The top outside spender in the race was by far the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, with $3.5 million – and all but about $86,000 of it was to attack Garcia. The pro-Democratic House Majority PAC spent $605,000 against Garcia, while Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ Americans for Responsible Solutions spent $532,000 against her.
The top spender against Kuster was the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners Action Fund, which spent $1.2 million. (There was issue advertising against Kuster earlier in the campaign by Americans for Prosperity, which totaled $2.2 million. But as required by federal law, AFP’s issues advertising ended 60 days before the election.)
The Club for Growth spent $176,000 in favor of Garcia and $300,000 against Gary Lambert in the GOP primary race, while the Club for Growth Action super PAC spent $758,000 against Kuster.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, by the way, spent a grand total of $94,000 on Garcia’s behalf.
Separately, while Kuster raised and spent about $3 million from her own campaign account, Garcia raised and spent about $800,000.
Who knows? Kuster may have won anyway had the money been more even. But it is interesting in retrospect that, after heralding Garcia as a rising star and an example of a youthful, diverse, forward-looking GOP, the party and some big conservative group appeared to give up on her early in the campaign.
CONSERVATIVE SUMMIT. Three conservative groups – American Principles Project, Breitbart News Network and Cornerstone Action – are hosting a forum at Southern New Hampshire University today to discuss, according to an announcement, “the founding principles of federalism, the role of state elected officials to guard against federal overreach, and how the federal government is working to undermine the state legislatures and the citizens.”
The groups say “Practical Federalism: How the Federal Government Is Silencing the People” will be the first in a series of forums to be held in key presidential primary states, including two events in the spring of 2015 in Iowa and South Carolina.
The focus today will be on “federal overreach in areas such as ObamaCare, the Common Core standards, privacy and data collection, Medicaid expansion, religious liberty, the Environmental Protection Agency and land use.”
Speakers include American Principles Project’s education director Emmett McGroarty; Cornerstone Action executive director Bryan McCormack; Georgia state Sen. William Ligon; Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory; Oklahoma state Rep. Jason Nelson; Ed Naile of the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers; John Davidson of the Texas Policy Center; and Steve Klein of the Wyoming Liberty Council.
ICYMI: Scott Brown is rejoining Fox News as a contributor. His first appearance is scheduled for Tuesday on a talk show entitled, coincidentally, “Outnumbered.”
BABIARZ FOR SENATE. For our Friday report on veteran Libertarian John Babiarz of Grafton considering a 2016 run for the U.S. Senate, click here.
(John DiStaso is news editor of the New Hampshire Journal and the most experienced political columnist/reporter in New Hampshire. He has been reporting on Granite State politics since 1982. Watch for updates of his Granite Reports column and of course separate stories on NHJournal.com as news breaks. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter: @jdistaso.)