The phenomenon began in the Republican presidential primary, when a handful of millionaires lined up to support their candidates through specially targeted super PACs, including one funded by Jon Huntsman Jr.’s billionaire father.
The same kinds of very personalized groups have sprouted in House and Senate races across the country, inundating voters with ads and mailings and testing the limits of federal rules forbidding coordination between fundraising committees and candidates.
The pattern is evident in California, which held a revamped primary contest Tuesday allowing the first two candidates of any party to proceed to the general election. At least a dozen primary races in the state featured super PACs founded or funded by close allies and associates of the candidates, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
In the High Desert east of Los Angeles, for example, Republican Paul Cook was aided by more than $200,000 worth of ads and mailers from two super PACs in the newly created 8th Congressional District. The groups were formed by the same lawyer within a month of the primary and have not yet had to disclose their donors.
But the prize for the most personalized super PAC must surely go to North Carolina, where GOP congressional candidate George Holding was aided by a group funded almost entirely by his family.At The Huffington Post, Michael McAuliff and Paul Blumenthal explain one way in which candidates and super PACs may act in concert without breaking anti-coordination rules. Their example is Waterfront Strategies.
Waterfront is not actually an independent outfit. The building in Georgetown where it is located is the home of GMMB, the powerhouse media consulting shop that produces President Barack Obama's ads, and where Obama's top consultant there, Jim Margolis, boasts that he represents more Democratic senators than anyone else, among them Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Waterfront, it turns out, is an internal branch of GMMB. It was incorporated in Delaware, and its president is listed as Raelynn Olson. She is GMMB's managing partner.
Waterfront Strategies, [consultants] explained, exists so that GMMB has a separate corporate entity where it can employ people to handle outside expenditures -- in this case mostly from the House Majority PAC that aims to retake control of the House from Republicans, and the Majority PAC that is trying to preserve Democratic control of the Senate. The arrangement keeps the money legally separate from people who may be working more directly with Senate or House candidates. Thus campaign laws barring coordination are not violated.
That's not to say that either GMMB or Waterfront Strategies are breaking any laws. But, consultants said, it is increasingly easy to coordinate without breaking the rules.
"The way it works is you hire people who have worked with the candidates and their campaigns before, so they know the person and they know what the campaign wants," said one longtime Democratic consultant. "Then they're all looking at the same polls and research, so they know what needs to be addressed."