Political campaigns are not allowed to coordinate with the Super PACs supporting them, but candidates such as Carly Fiorina have found ways to direct these organizations in ways that require no explicit contact. Rather, they make public declarations that the Super PACs can take as instruction, if they so choose.
Super PACs are increasingly operating as extensions of political campaigns rather than separate entities touting support. Part of the reason may be the Federal Election Commission's inability to take action due to a partisan deadlock – three Republicans and three Democrats comprise the commission – according to The New York Times. The super PAC supporting Fiorina, Carly for America, isn't the only committee that has stretched the rules, though it has been particularly bold as it aided her run for the Republican nomination "in plain sight," the media outlet noted.
Super PACs finding ways around campaign finance rules
The New York Times sent reporters to a South Carolina event for the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, where the super PAC was instrumental behind the scenes. Carly for America staffers set tables and gathered attendees' contact information before she arrived. Her campaign cannot communicate with the committee in any way, which one may assume would affect its ability to do things such as set up an event for her. However, she found a way to exploit a loophole in campaign finance law by setting up a public Google Calendar the super PAC can use to determine where she will be and when. This allows the Super PAC staff to do the work of a campaign without actually being part of the campaign.
"The FEC is unable to take action due to a partisan deadlock."
Practices such as this have become commonplace in the 2016 election and the deadlocked FEC can do little to stop them. In May, the Washington Post reported on Correct the Record's, a Super PAC supporting Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, intentions to coordinate with her campaign. The organization noted that as long as it relied on information posted online and available for free in forums such as blogs, it would be able to work with Clinton's campaign.
"The FEC rules specifically permit some activity – in particular, activity on an organization's website, in email, and on social media – to be legally coordinated with candidates and political parties," Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for Correct The Record, said in a statement at the time, according to the news outlet. "This exception has been relied upon countless times by organizations raising non-federal money. The only thing unique about Correct the Record is that it is making its contributors and expenditures public."
Terry Giles, a Houston lawyer, served as GOP nominee Ben Carson's campaign chairman for some time until the former neurosurgeon officially entered the race, the Los Angeles Times reported. Once Carson announced his campaign, Giles resigned, waited 120 days – in accordance with FEC rules – and then began working with two super PACs supporting the soft-spoken nominee. He explained that his work would comprise of ensuring the organizations are aligned with Carson's campaign goals. Giles told the news outlet that when his work with the committees is finished he will return to work with Carson's campaign, though without an official position.
Posting plans in public makes preparation easy for super PACs
Public postings seem to be a popular way for super PACs to coordinate with campaigns – both Clinton and Fiorina seem to have utilized this concept. Tweeting opinions on approaches to campaigning and posting YouTube videos that can be used as B-roll by super PACs developing advertising strategies are other ways that candidates can utilize the public accessibility of the Internet to their advantage in exploiting campaign finance law loopholes.
"Essentially, it inoculates a case of coordination by making it public," Kenneth Gross, a lawyer who specializes in campaign finance, told The New York Times. "As long as it's not hidden in a 'Where's Waldo' game and meets a reasonable definition of being public, it is a way to avoid running afoul of the coordination rules."
Speaking about the South Carolina event that the New York Times reported on, a spokeswoman for Carly for America stated that the super PAC staffers merely noticed the occasion on Fiorina's public calendar and showed up. She compared it to any other supporter of the candidate showing up to one of her events.
"We are not coordinating, and no, I'm not concerned at all, therefore," Fiorina said when asked about the relationship between her campaign and Carly for America.
Candidates on both sides of the aisle found ways to take advantage of campaign finance laws that govern the Super PACs that support them, but as candidates such as Fiorina and Clinton have found, no amount of support from Super PACs is enough to win elections.