Mitt Romney claims campaign finance laws forbid him from saying anything to stop a pro-Romney super PAC called Restore Our Future from airing attack ads targeting Newt Gingrich. The PAC has just unveiled a new hit on Gingrich in Iowa, following up on a devastating ad played repeatedly across the state. The ads are widely crediting will cutting into Gingrich's support in Iowa.
Is that true? Would it be illegal for Romney to say, in an interview like that on MSNBC, or in a speech, or in some other forum, "I call on all entities putting out ads on my behalf to stop the negative attacks." Would that be illegal? A former chairman of the Federal Election Commission says the answer is no.
"Nothing prevents [Romney] from simply saying he doesn't want the ads run or from criticizing the super PAC for doing it," says Trevor Potter, now a lawyer and advocate of campaign finance reform in Washington.UPDATE:
On Wednesday morning, Romney had a different position. "There are limits as to what you can tell a PAC," he told Fox. "Obviously, there are these coordination rules, you're not allowed to coordinate, but I'm sure I could go out and say, 'Hey please don't do anything negative.' But you know, this is politics, and if you can't stand the heat in this little kitchen, wait until the Obama's Hell's Kitchen turns up the heat. Look, this is a time when we have to be able to stand up, defend ourselves. I've done the hard work of raising money for ads, and the speaker came after me pretty aggressively in his attacks. We're going to respond, and we've got an ad campaign in my campaign that's positive, but this super PAC that's been organized, it has to do what it does on an un-coordinated basis."
UPDATE: The Romney campaign, which Tuesday night declined comment on the coordination question, sent this regarding Gov. Romney's statement Wednesday morning:
Mitt Romney and his campaign are prohibited from issuing any requests or suggestions to a Super PAC regarding communications by the Super PAC. Coordination is crime punishable with criminal sanctions under current election law. As Gov. Romney said, asking, 'Hey, please don't do anything negative,’ in and of itself isn't 'absolutely' illegal but, given the law, our attorneys have advised that the candidate and campaign not issue any condemnations or praise of any Super PAC communications by Restore Our Future at this time. If Mitt Romney made any public comment about a Restore Our Future ad, it could be considered a request or suggestion about that particular ad. And, once a campaign comments about one Super PAC ad, silence about the next Super PAC ad could also be perceived as a request or suggestion. His comments are consistent with this position.