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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Super PACs, Door Knocking, and Coordination

Our most recent book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics.  Among other things, it discusses party organizations and campaign finance.

David Drucker at The Dispatch:

The Federal Election Commission, in a little-noticed decision that could radically reshape campaign politics, is giving candidates the greenlight to coordinate with super PACs and other outside groups on door-to-door voter turnout activities.

Under the Texas Majority PAC advisory opinion the FEC issued on March 20, candidates for Congress and the White House are permitted to work directly with allied groups on the expensive, labor-intensive work of door-to-door voter canvassing. That includes giving strategic direction to supportive super PACs and other politically active organizations, as well as sharing preferred messaging. Additionally, the FEC’s advisory opinion also permits candidates to access the voter data collected from an allied group’s door-knocking—as long as their campaigns pay for it.

Political operatives on both sides of the aisle describe this development as consequential, saying it could change how candidates—especially presidential candidates—manage field operations. Some Republican insiders worry Democrats will gain yet another fundraising and infrastructure edge heading into November. “We’re concerned that it gives the Democrats an advantage because their outside groups are better funded and their people are easier to canvas,” a GOP election lawyer said, requesting anonymity to speak candidly.

Meanwhile, there are a few legal caveats.

The FEC’s Texas Majority PAC advisory opinion does not apply to phone banking, text messaging, or direct mail, crucial components of any get-out-the-vote effort. In other words, campaigns must still honor the ban on coordinating with outside groups vis-a-vis those activities. Additionally, election lawyers believe groups that coordinate door-to-door canvassing with candidates are going to have to “firewall” that effort from the rest of the organization, to ensure communications with the campaign, and the data gathered, are not used in advertising or messaging.

Until the FEC rendered this interpretation of campaign finance law, candidates were prohibited from communicating with outside groups—no exceptions.

So, even though super PACs can raise unlimited cash versus strict donor limits placed on campaigns, the inability to coordinate strategy and messaging—and to share in the trove of data—made relying on such groups for voter turnout risky. Further, it was usually ineffective. Exhibit A: Ron DeSantis and his 2024 president bid. The Florida governor delegated his ground game to a super PAC, Never Back Down. The effort devolved into infighting and produced a 30-point loss for DeSantis in Iowa’s caucuses.

With the barrier to coordinating on door-to-door canvassing lifted, farming out this key aspect of voter turnout to cash-flush super PACs and other resource-rich outside groups becomes eminently more feasible, strategically, since some of the problems that plagued DeSantis are less likely to emerge. Indeed, knowledgeable Republican sources tell Dispatch Politics that former President Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, and the Republican National Committee, are planning to cede door-knocking efforts to various outside groups.