No Degree of Separation?

Last time the subject of Super-PACs came up, I found myself wondering who, exactly, is going to police the “independence” of these bodies from formal campaign organizations, and vice vesa? Surely not the toothless and paralyzed FEC, right?

So here’s some evidence from none other than Craig Robinson of The Iowa Republican that several candidates in Iowa–notably Jeb Bush, whose Super-PACs have raised over $100 million–aren’t much bothering to maintain the appearance of propriety:

The mailer featuring Jeb Bush standing on the bank of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids has garnered a lot of attention, not because the pro-Bush Super PAC Right to PAC sent it to over 86,000 households in Iowa, but because it appears as if Jeb’s left had is that of a black man.

The awkward photo went viral Friday afternoon and was even discussed on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday morning. As humorous as the photo-shopped image of Mr. Bush may be, that’s not the most interesting thing about this mail piece. The Bush aligned Right to Rise Super PAC paid for the slick mailer, but it was produced and mailed by a company that is owned by David Kochel, one of Jeb Bush’s top campaign strategists.

Expenditure filings with the Federal Election Commission show that Right to Rise PAC paid Kochel’s Redwave Communications in Des Moines three payments totaling $82,958 on August 18th and 19th. It is likely that Kochel’s firm printed both of the mail pieces of sent to Iowa and New Hampshire last week. The firm was only paid for postage for the Iowa mailer, indicating that another entity mailed the New Hampshire on behalf of the Super Pac.

This is just the latest example of how blurry the lines are between the campaigns and their associated Super PACs. Kochel’s Iowa firm has a team of just four individuals including himself. Kochel is the sole owner of Redwave Communications, and he was once the campaign manager in waiting for Bush. After a shakeup before Bush formally launched his campaign, Kochel is now described as a senior strategist who is focused on early state strategies for the campaign.

Tim Albrecht, Governor Branstad’s former communications director, is the “Message Executive” for Redwave. Albrecht has staffed Mr. Bush since early March when campaigning in the state. Albrecht has set up media interviews and staffed both Bush and his son, George P. Bush, at the Iowa State Fair….

The Bush campaign isn’t the only 2016 presidential campaign that is blurring the line between itself and its associated Super PAC. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal frequently attends town hall meetings in Iowa that are paid for and conducted by Believe Again, a Super PAC supporting his candidacy. A Super PAC, not her actual campaign, is conducting the grassroots organization in support of Carly Fiorina in Iowa. A Ben Carson Super PAC recently sent Iowans excerpts from a book Carson wrote. On the back, it reads, “Ben Carson for President!” Then it lists the name and address of the Super PAC.

Keep in mind why this much-ignored rule of separation matters: Super-PACs are not subject to contribution limits because they are theoretically exercising First Amendment expressions rather than candidate operations. Yes, everybody understands after 2012 that total separation is a pipe dream. But no degree of separation at all? That’s a sin, if not a crime.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.