Correct the Record, a super PAC providing a rapid-response team and opposition research for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential run, was hit Wednesday with a complaint to the Federal Election Commission that alleges the group’s activity violates campaign finance law.
The complaint, filed by Washington-based watchdog group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), accused the group of providing illegal in-kind contributions to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.
The complaint used Correct the Record’s own words and mission statement to make the case, including telling Bloomberg Politics that it would function as the Clinton campaign’s “political research and communications war room.”
“This type of activity is directly contrary to [campaign finance law] and Commission regulations, which provide that neither a Super PAC nor the non-contribution account of a hybrid PAC can coordinate with or make donations to federal candidates,” states the complaint.
“The commission must immediately investigate and enforce the law,” it said.
The complaint hinges on how far the group can bend the FEC’s Internet exemption, which allows some coordination between political campaigns and super PACs that have an online presence but do not engage in “coordinated communication,” such as paid TV ads for a candidate.
Nevertheless, the group raised eyebrows as soon as it announced plans to run interference for the Clinton campaign, which, at the very least, put it among the growing ranks of super PACs testing the limits of campaign finance laws for the 2016 elections.
The allegations in the complaint belie Mrs. Clinton’s tough talk in opposition to “unaccounted money” that has poured into the political process since the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision opened the floodgates for super PAC spending.
“We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccounted money out of it, once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment,” Mrs. Clinton said at a recent campaign stop in Iowa.
The former first lady, senator and secretary of state also has said she can’t afford to not tap the big money from super PACs that’s needed to compete in the post-Citizens United campaign environment.
The Clinton campaign did not respond to questions about the FEC complaint.
Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, who is running to Mrs. Clinton’s left to challenge her for the Democratic presidential nomination, has vowed not to let super PAC money tarnish his campaign.
Mrs. Clinton has a huge lead in the polls and is considered the party’s all-but-inevitable presidential nominee, allowing her to largely ignore Mr. Sanders and other potential rivals.
Correct the Record (CTR), which operates exclusively online through a website and social media, insisted that it follows the letter of the law.
“This complaint is without merit,” Adrienne Watson, communications director for Correct the Record, said after reviewing the complaint. “Correct the Record’s work would not be an in-kind contribution to the campaign, so long as we do not violate the definition of coordinated communications.”
Correct the Record’s website provides talking points and data intended to debunk what it calls “right-wing attacks,” including about the Benghazi terror attack, the book “Clinton Cash” that makes pay-to-play allegations about foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation, reports that Mrs. Clinton did not pay her male and female staff equally and claims that she is a weak defender of gay rights.
In the complaint, FACT argued that the jobs performed by Correct the Record — which the group has described as a “strategic research and rapid response team designed to defend Hillary Clinton from right-wing, baseless attacks” — constitutes services provided to the campaign free of charge.
“The relevant question is not whether CTR PAC engaged in a ‘coordinated communication’ with the Clinton Campaign. Rather, the relevant question is whether CTR PAC’s funding an entire research and rapid response staff working in full coordination with the Clinton Campaign is something of value to the Clinton Campaign, and as such, constitutes an illegal in-kind contribution,” said the complaint.
“For CTR PAC to claim, as it must, that funding the Clinton Campaign’s research and rapid response team provides nothing of value to the Clinton campaign is absurd,” it said. “Under [that] logic, a corporation would be allowed to give a campaign fully coordinated use of its in-house research and communications team, so long as whatever that staff did was distributed online.”
Matthew G. Whitaker, executive director of FACT, said the complaint was a shot across the bow for other super PACs running rampant in the 2016 race.
“It was necessary to get this out there and really prevent it and make sure that no other campaigns on either side thought that this was a good idea,” he said. “This is the first one that we’ve seen publicly announce that they wanted to directly coordinate with the campaign, and we certainly are scanning the horizon looking for anybody else who wants to do coordination with a super PAC.”