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Groups ask FEC to blur lines between candidates, super PACs and nonprofits

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Political groups are pressing to further blur the lines between the myriad and little-regulated types of groups that run politically-tinged advertising, including campaigns, super PACs and nonprofit advocacy groups, according to a document released Tuesday by the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Already, political action committees have found a way to function as both a traditional PAC, which can give to elections but only accept $5,000 per person, and a super PAC, which can accept unlimited contributions to run its own ads, by maintaining two bank accounts. And super PACs have maintained sister groups organized under a “social welfare” section of the tax code to hide the source of some money.

Now, a conservative group and a House candidate want permission to tie together all those groups, plus candidates themselves, and raise money under one banner, despite the ban on “coordination” between candidates and independent groups that support them, which was the foundation for the Supreme Court’s conclusion that the new groups would not lead to corruption.

The American Future Fund (AFF), a 501(c)4 nonprofit, and the American Future Fund Political Action fund (AFFPA), a PAC in the process of adding a super PAC, have asked the FEC to draft a system by which they can raise money together without risking sanctions.

David M. McIntosh, an Indiana Republican who served two terms in the House in the 1990s before being defeated and is now seeking a return to Congress, wants to join them.

They want to establish an umbrella group, known as a “joint fundraising committee,” that shares fundraising costs and splits donations between the parties.

But to do so, they propose a series of carefully measured tactics.

“A candidate will have the opportunity to review and edit all materials prepared for use in connection with joint fundraising efforts … [but] will not be involved in preparing any of the [Joint Fundraising Committee] material,” an FEC attorney summarized her understanding of the proposal.

They would advertise the candidate’s involvement in the group, and his attendance at the event, but not refer to him by certain official titles.

And they would hold fundraising events, but solicit the checks before the in-person event, not at it.

By consolidating, the groups would take some of the guesswork out of the equation for companies, unions and wealthy individuals who want to influence politics. They could simply give any amount they want, and the committee would determine which of its components could legally accept it, and in what amounts.

For example, “the first $5,000 received by the fundraising representative would be allocated to AFF and any amounts from individuals in excess of $5,000 would be split evenly between AFF, AFFPA’s noncontribution account, and the [super PAC]; all corporate and labor organization funds received would be split evenly between AFF, AFFPA’s non-contribution account, and the [super PAC],” the document proposes.

The Federal Election Commission staff typically prepares one or more proposed responses to requests for Advisory Opinions, as they are known, and the six-member Commission, which is split evenly between parties, would vote on which response to approve.

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