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“Gotcha” rules

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* This is one reason why I am no fan of the federal campaign finance laws. People get “busted” for allegedly “breaking” one of a kajillion confusing rules that aren’t really even rules

Here’s yet another consequence of the confusing super PAC era: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., may have irritated members of his conference by donating to an anti-incumbent super PAC before the Illinois primary, but Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., could have violated campaign finance rules when he solicited Cantor’s donation.

Last week, Roll Call reported that Cantor donated $25,000 to the Campaign for Primary Accountability as a way of supporting freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill, against fellow Republican Rep. Don Manzullo in a member-versus-member primary in the state’s 16th District (The group ultimately spent over $220,000 against Manzullo). According to both Cantor’s camp and Schock himself, Cantor cut the check at Schock’s request.

That’s where Schock treads dangerously close to the line drawn by the FEC. In an advisory opinion issued last year, the FEC says that federal officeholders and candidates “may solicit up to $5,000 from individuals (and any other source not prohibited by the Act from making a contribution to a political committee)” on behalf of super PACs. Candidates may appear at fundraisers on behalf of super PACs, but they cannot be involved in asking for checks larger than $5,000 — the reason Cantor, Mitt Romney, Harry Reid or even President Obama, for that matter, can appear at fundraisers for supportive super PACs, but they have to leave the room before staffers ask for donations in order to raise unlimited sums.

Schock, it seems, directly asked for a contribution well above the limit the FEC allowed.

Keep in mind that this is an advisory opinion, not an actual law. And the FEC is so screwed up and divided along partisan lines that it’s doubtful anything will become of it.

The “smoking gun” from Roll Call

Cantor campaign spokesman Ray Allen told Roll Call that Cantor made the donation at the request of Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) for use only in the Kinzinger-Manzullo race.

“On Thursday, March 15, 2012, Leader Cantor was asked by Congressman Schock to contribute to an organization that was supporting Adam Kinzinger in the Illinois election of March 20. ERICPAC subsequently made a contribution with the understanding that those funds would be used only in the effort to support Congressman Kinzinger,” Allen said.

[Schock:] “I said, ‘Look, I’m going to do $25,000 [specifically] for the Kinzinger campaign for the television campaign’ and said, ‘Can you match that?’”

“And he said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Sorry, but I just can’t get too excited about this. I’m not sure how you feel. Perhaps you can change my mind.

* Also, this

Illinois’ 2009 campaign finance law, passed in the wake of scandals that enveloped Gov. Rod Blagojevich, sought to limit the four legislative leaders’ ability to fund primary races because of fears that the leaders held too much sway over rank-and-file lawmakers once they arrived in Springfield.

However, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, was able to skirt the law’s $75,000 limit during last month’s hotly contested 96th House Democratic primary by tapping into his personal campaign fund to support Decatur schoolteacher Sue Scherer.

To date, Scherer’s campaign has reported getting $87,849 in contributions from campaign funds controlled by the speaker — $61,886 from the Democratic Majority committee and $25,963 from Friends of Michael J. Madigan, according to State Board of Elections records. […]

David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said it’s fair for voters to consider whether Scherer and Madigan violated the spirit of the law even though all of the spending fell within the law.

Um. Those contributions were all well within the legal bounds. It’s beyond fair to report the amounts and how the law is being used to someone’s advantage, but “violating the spirit of the law” is more than a bit much.

posted by Rich Miller
Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 10:01 am


  1. The campaign finance rules are really out of whack. McCain Feingold was put in place to stop “soft dollars” and years later those loopholes have basically created soft dollars on steroids with Super PAC’s. Every time you change a law, another loophole comes into place and now it’s much worse than ever.

    Comment by View from the Cheap Seats Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 10:10 am

  2. like most things in Washington, election finance laws are overly complicated and burdensome… which actually benefits entrenched incumbents.

    I can’t get excited either, we need better laws that are easier to understand and even easier to follow.

    Comment by Ahoy Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 10:12 am

  3. considering how long and painful the mccain feingold bill took to pass and how incredibly unwilling congress is to do anything I don’t think you have much hope of getting these laws changed anytime soon.

    Sorry but the cantor-manzullo thing is really just sour grapes from manzullo and a bored dc press corps wanting to advance their “cantor scheming to take boehner’s job” narrative further. It just seems like another way to up that story.

    Comment by Shore Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 10:12 am

  4. The campaign finance system is horribly complicated and unwieldy. But I would argue that’s as much a product of judicial interference and malfeasance when it comes to their frequent and often contradictory opinions on campaign donations. Activist judges have succeeded in both limiting and complicating efforts to police corruption in electoral politics as much or more than the drafting or existence of the campaign finance laws themselves.

    As for the SuperPAC thing, isn’t the bigger story from an Illinois perspective that Schock was pushing so hard to save one colleague from the congressional delegation over another one that it wasn’t enough to donate directly to him but he needed to go a step further and deploy SuperPAC help and enlist Cantor in deploying this SuperPAC help? What is up with that? And aren’t the hard feelings from this going to make things a lot more difficult for Schock if he ever wants to advance beyond Congresscritter?

    Comment by hisgirlfriday Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 10:13 am

  5. Accusing someone of “violating the spirit of the law” is a damn weak accusation. Either you violate a law or you don’t. I’m no fan of any of the players mentioned here, but there’s simply no “there” here.

    Comment by ChicagoR Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 10:17 am

  6. Just like NASCAR, if you’re not cheatin, you’re not tryin.

    Comment by Dan Shields, Springfield, IL Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 10:20 am

  7. ICPR is too narrowly focused on campaign contribution regulation, and not enough on what the money actually buys in terms of behavior.

    Comment by mark walker Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 10:30 am

  8. No Rich, this is a problem. If Barack Obama called George Soros and said “write a check to priorities USA,” people would go bananas. Same thing if Romney called Sheldon Adelson.

    I agree that appearing at fundraisers is bad optics, but that’s the line that the FEC drew, and Schock went over it by making the ask himself.

    Comment by Tom B. Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 10:40 am

  9. I agree this story should mean nothing. I don’t believe there should be caps on campaign contributions at the federal or state level. But I do think there should be almost immediate disclosure and those rules shouldn’t allow people, groups or companies to hide behind shell entities. The caps are actually what cause the problems with disclosure.

    Comment by Been There Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 10:40 am

  10. Dan Shields is right. The spirit of the law? Ultimately we are still talking about politics where the goal is to win. Politics is about, and should be about, clever people beating thick people. Madigan is clever. He beats thick people. There is not much more of any relevance to add.

    Comment by Skeeter Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 10:40 am

  11. The interesting story is the ongoing civil war in the national GOP. These guys can’t seem to handle success, even when they’re in the majority.

    Comment by wordslinger Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 10:50 am

  12. “”People get “busted” for allegedly “breaking” one of a kajillion confusing rules that aren’t really even rules…”"

    You could make that statement for federal statutes in general.

    Recommended reading:

    Three Felonies A Day by Harvey Silvergate

    Comment by BCross Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 11:11 am

  13. is clear the SJR is very afraid of a Madigan supported candidate in their circulation area
    Second it is shocking to see Capt Fax pick on poor Aaron, but understandable because Aaron is backing Rep Adam Brown for TJ Congressional seat over Capt Fax long time favorite Jerry Clark.
    (Expect to suddenly see a lot of bad Aaron news in this space)

    Comment by CircularFiringSquad Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 11:24 am

  14. This is a “Wake-up” call to Jason Plummer.

    You better be Crystal Clear how you are moving YOUR money to pay for YOUR race. These rules are set to be more of a “gotcha” regualtion, than of the actual laws to be enforced.

    Just a hint, Jason … just a sniff, Jason of something “not right” in the self-funding … watch how fast the DCCC will jump on an “investigation of a 28 year old, who can come up with tens of thousands of dollars, and yet … will not give an indication of income with Income Tax records, nor will Jason be clear on the wealth liquidated to run for Congress.”

    Wake up Jason Plummer.

    Your personality, your “uber” language and your aloof reality of what the voters are “allowed to know”, wrapped in your arrogance of what YOU are intitled to, and what others should expect of you is going to come and bite ya.

    Just like the “gotcha” for Congressman Schock.

    Comment by Oswego Willy Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 11:30 am

  15. @mark walker -

    In my opinion, ICPR is way too busy defending “the spirit” of their own law and explaining its loopholes. Loopholes they blessed when they referred to the current law with phrases like “significant reform”, “fundamentally changed” and sea change back in 2010.

    Their mistake — I and many others believe — was ignoring the advice to push for a much more radical and airtight public financing of elections bill and instead attempting to build a better mouse trap.

    The practical impact of the new law has been:

    1. Increasing the demand for the services of election lawyers, and thus their income;

    2. Increasing the advantage of incumbents, who have access to the best election lawyers;

    3. Creating headaches and pitfalls for non-machine candidates from both parties attempting to navigate the maze of rules;

    4. Putting Independent candidates, who can’t access party funds, at a huge disadvantage;

    5. Increasing the cost of campaigns and thus fundraising pressures and their influence.

    If I were ICPR, I’d rethink my strategy and use the recent court ruling striking down parts of the campaign law as an excuse to revisit public financing.

    Building a better mouse trap is a doomed strategy. You’ve got to completely remove cheese from the equation.

    Comment by Yellow Dog Democrat Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 11:45 am

  16. What it comes down to is the lawmakers who write the laws complaining that the laws they wrote are too hard to follow.

    Comment by too obvious Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 11:56 am

  17. ===is the lawmakers who write the laws complaining ===

    No. This was an FEC advisory opinion, not a law. Try to keep up here.

    Comment by Rich Miller Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 11:59 am

  18. I am going to agree with Bowen here. Let this slide, and it’s now legal for Rod Blagojevich ( if he were running federally ) to call up some CEO and “request” a donation of one million dollars to the Blagotobe’s super PAC? This is also making me curious if the solicitation restrictions apply to the supposedly non-political 501c4s, that don’t even have to disclose donations publicly. If that were the case, Katy bar the door. Candidates for office directly soliciting undisclosed multimillion dollar donations to their unaffiliated 501c4s … Yikes.

    Comment by ZC Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 12:14 pm

  19. If I didn’t know better I’d think that Circular is implying some sort of bias on the part of our host. A vicious “bite me” would appear to be in order.

    Comment by Bill Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 12:48 pm

  20. As some of you may have noticed, I’m not fan of Schock myself. In fact, I’d compare my disdain to Oswego Willy’s feelings on Plummer. I’d be glad to see “a lot of bad Aaron news around here” if only because it’s amazing how little of it there ever is. With Karen McDonald having moved on from the PJS, it seems like the paper is beginning to do its job a bit more, but for years it’s been impossible to read anything other than how he’s a wunderkind rising star chiseled abs SQUEEEEE.

    That said: Dude didn’t break any laws here. Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be talked about, and it does give you an idea of the character of the person. This is what disclosure laws are meant to do, let us know what’s actually going on so we can know what our elected officials are up to and in bed with.

    Comment by Colossus Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 12:55 pm

  21. @YDD: I always like your comments. That probably is IPR’s best route on campaign finance reform.

    My problem is that corruption involves much more than campaign contributions,(e.g. jobs, contracts, personal favors, waivers, tax relief, taking care of relatives, capital projects) that focusing almost entirely on campaign funding barely touches the surface of the problem.

    Comment by mark walker Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 1:41 pm

  22. @Mark -

    Thanks man. I admired you as a lawmaker.

    Corruption is and can be much broader than campaign finance. Fair elections are the best check against bad governance though, which is why fixing our campaign finance laws is so important.

    For what its worth, I think most folks who have been around Springfield for awhile would agree that Derrick Smith and Rod Blagojevich are aberrations, not the rule. Most folks on both sides of the aisle are good, decent, law-abiding folks who — even when I staunchly disagree with them — I believe are motivated either by a desire to represent their constituents, the best interests of the state, and sometimes even both.

    Honestly, I think there’s been such a spotlight on Springfield and even City Hall over the past decade that I’m 99.94% certain that as far as corruption goes, local governments in the rest of the state are far, far, far worse.

    We as citizens need to do a better job of looking beyond the partisan label of candidates to their actual character.

    And while publicly-funded campaigns won’t prevent a legislator from sponsoring legislation benefitting a particular company and then going to lobby on that same company’s behalf three months later, they do help ensure that any and all of the 176 legislators left behind who voted for the measure can be held better accountable.

    And the ACME Corp. may be able to write 177 checks, but they can’t hand out 177 jobs.

    Comment by Yellow Dog Democrat Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 2:04 pm

  23. To: Skeeter, Madigan won because he outspent his candidate’s opponents a gazillion to one, not because he’s clever. When the candidate who is outspent wins, it is due to clevernesss, not the other way around

    To Rich Miller: The SJ-R was right on point that Madigan violated the spirit of the law. The idea was to limit legislative leaders spending on a candidate to $75,000, to prevent the Leader’s candidate from outspending opponents a gazillion to one. Clearly that spirit was violated. This is a gigantic loophole that needs to be closed, but probably won’t be if Madigan has anything to say about it.

    Comment by Common Sense Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 10:43 pm

  24. Cantor and Schock fight elections with real bullets. They are the type you want on your side. Not the mealy mouthed types who give you lip service and may actally donate to both sides in an election. When Schock goes “all in,” it means “ALL IN.” Ask Kinzinger,Schilling, Rep Unes, Rep Adam Brown and others he’s helped.

    Comment by ripity Wednesday, Apr 11, 12 @ 11:10 pm

  25. Hum…25K here, 25K there, after awhile it adds up to real money. Say, what if, we could take all that dough and dump it in the state coffers…would make up the deficit real fast….Naw, never happen…spend one my lovelies.

    Comment by Siyotanka Thursday, Apr 12, 12 @ 8:30 am

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