American Crossroads, a conservative "super PAC" linked to former Bush adviser Karl Rove, is asking the Federal Election Commission for permission to use federal candidates and office holders in its ads.
The request, filed Wednesday with the FEC, could potentially undermine campaign finance laws that have long prohibited direct coordination between outside groups and political candidates.
But in a letter sent to the FEC, attorneys for American Crossroads argue they are simply seeking permission to do what Democrats are already doing. As evidence, they site a series of recent campaign ads starring Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, in which he is shown explaining his votes on the debt ceiling and other hot button issues.
The spots look like campaign ads for Nelson, who is facing a tough path to re-election next year. But they were paid for by the Nebraska Democratic State Central Committee, an offshoot of the state Democratic party, with funds routed to the committee by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the fundraising arm of Senate Democrats in Washington.
In a sign of the intensifying fight for control of the House, allies of Congressional Republicans are forming a new Super PAC to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to defend the G.O.P. majority next year.
The new group, the Congressional Leadership Fund, will be loosely affiliated with the American Action Network, a nonprofit advocacy organization that spent about $26 million in 2010 to help Republicans win control of the House. The network’s founder, the businessman Fred V. Malek, will sit on the board of the new fund, and Brian Walsh, the network’s president and a former political director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, will run it.
The arrangement mirrors that of the leading Republican-oriented independent group, American Crossroads, a group founded by Karl Rove that is paired with a nonprofit group, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies. The combination allows for more flexibility in raising and spending money: The Super PACs must disclose their donors but can advocate explicitly for or against a candidate, while the nonprofits may keep donors secret but are technically restricted to issue advocacy.