Congress Shall Make No Law...
February
24
9:33 PM
Public Campaign Action Fund Manufactures Scandal in Wisconsin

Update: Click here to read about Public Campaign Action Fund's latest frivolous charges against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

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As if one needed further evidence that the primary beneficiaries of campaign finance laws are the political operatives who try to use them for partisan advantage, Public Campaign Action Fund has accused Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker of illegal campaign “coordination” based on statements he made during a prank call by a blogger posing as libertarian political activist David Koch.

 

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This claim is nonsense on every possible level.  First, Governor Walker wasn’t actually talking to David Koch.  Even if he had been, his statements did not meet the legal definition of coordination.  And, most importantly, coordination is not illegal.

 

Before going into detail on these points, first we need to explain what this charge actually means.

 

“Coordination” is campaign-finance jargon for expenditures that are prearranged between a candidate and another person who wants to help that candidate’s election campaign.  So, for example, if Candidate A asks Group B to run television advertisements supporting his campaign, and Group B does so, that would be considered a coordinated expenditure.  Coordinated expenditures are not illegal, but they are usually subject to the same limits as direct contributions to the candidate, under the theory that there is no practical difference between giving a candidate the money to run advertisements himself or directly paying for those advertisements at the candidate’s request.

 

Public Campaign Action Fund claims that the following exchange from the prank call may have constituted illegal coordination:

 

Gov. Walker: “After this in some of the coming days and weeks ahead, particularly in some of these more swing areas, a lot of these guys are going to need . . . they don’t need initially ads for them, but they’re going to need a message out.  Reinforcing why this was a good thing to do for the economy, a good thing to do for the state.  So to the extent that message is out over and over again is certainly a good thing.”

 

Ian Murphy (posing as David Koch): “Right, right.  We’ll back you any way we can.”

 

So is this illegal?  No, as Public Campaign Action Fund could easily have discovered if they had taken a few moments to read the relevant Wisconsin regulations (.pdf) instead of dashing off press releases while, by their own admission, still “in discussions with election experts on whether Gov. Walker may have broken state election law and whether a complaint should be filed.”

 

First and foremost, Gov. Walker wasn’t actually talking with David Koch.  He was talking with a prank caller.  There’s no coordination because no ads were actually going to result from the conversation.

 

Second, even if Gov. Walker had been talking with the real David Koch, this conversation doesn’t meet the legal definition of coordination.  For one thing, the advertisements being discussed concern issues, not candidates for public office.  Even if they had discussed ads supporting specific candidates, under Wisconsin law that would not be coordination unless those candidates had authorized Gov. Walker to act on their behalf.  This means that the Governor has the same right as any other Wisconsinite to suggest that people independently support Republican legislative candidates in the 2012 election.

 

Finally, and most importantly, coordination is not illegal.  That bears repeating.  Coordination, by itself, is not illegal.  Rather, coordinated expenditures are subject to the same limits as ordinary contributions.  This means that unless and until someone actually makes coordinated expenditures in excess of those limits, no law has been broken.

 

In short, absolutely nothing about Gov. Walker’s conversation with this prank phone-caller comes anywhere close to violating the legal limits on political coordination.  Public Campaign Action Fund—a sophisticated organization well-versed in campaign finance laws—must realize this. But that hasn’t stopped them from trying to bamboozle the public by using the complexity of campaign finance law to manufacture scandals where none exist.

 

I suppose I should mention that IJ has received funding from the Kochs (the real ones) in the past.  That said, I’ve never met them (I’ve never even met someone pretending to be one of them) and I’m reasonably sure they did not insert the ideas contained in this blog post into my head.  The opinion expressed in this blog post would be the same even if Public Campaign Action Fund had targeted some other wealthy individual or political activist with their frivolous allegations.