Democratic Super PACs Violated Campaign Finance Laws and Illegally Coordinated with Senate Campaigns in Mississippi and Kentucky
Washington, DC – Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging that during the 2020 general election two super PACs, Ditch Fund and March on PAC, violated the law by illegally making over $8 million in coordinated expenditures backing the campaigns of U.S. Senate candidates Amy McGrath and Michael Espy.
During the 2020 election cycle, the super PACs distributed and placed their advertisements supporting McGrath and Espy using the same firm—and in many cases, the same employee—that was strategically placing the McGrath and Espy campaigns’ own advertisements. Such use of a common vendor helped to ensure that spending by the super PACs would be complementary to, and coordinated with, the campaigns’ own efforts.
The McGrath and Espy campaigns both used the DC-based firm Buying Time LLC to place their advertisements, and Ditch Fund and March On PAC placed their ads supporting McGrath and Espy using a shell corporation for Buying Time called Targeted Platform Media (TPM). TPM has no significant digital footprint and a Buying Time employee is listed as the executive for both firms.
Ditch Fund spent $8 million supporting Kentucky U.S. Senate candidate McGrath or attacking her opponent, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The same TPM employee who placed advertisements for the super PAC, was also strategically placing advertisements for the McGrath campaign through Buying Time.
The March On PAC spent at least $50,000 supporting Mississippi U.S. Senate candidate Espy. The super PAC used TPM to distribute and place advertisements in the same periods and in the same media markets as the Espy campaign. TPM used the same Buying Time employee that was strategically placing the Espy campaigns’ own advertisements.
“Super PACs can only raise and spend unlimited amounts if they are completely independent of the campaigns they support. When the same person is placing ads for both a super PAC and the candidate that super PAC supports, then the super PAC’s spending is not at all independent, as required by law,” said Brendan Fischer, federal reform director for CLC. “A vendor cannot possibly separate its work for a super PAC from its work for a campaign when the same person is placing ads for both—an employee cannot create a firewall inside their own head.”
Campaign finance laws prohibit coordination between candidates and outside groups, like super PACs, which are only allowed to make unlimited expenditures if they are independent of the candidates they support. Anti-coordination laws limit how a vendor may work for both a candidate and a super PAC supporting that candidate; otherwise, the vendor can act as a conduit to funnel strategic information to the super PAC, which means that the super PAC is no longer acting independent of the campaign.
The violations alleged in today’s complaints are similar to those of the National Rifle Association (NRA), about which CLC filed complaints in 2018 and 2019.
To reduce political corruption, we need real transparency about who is spending big money on elections so that politicians can no longer receive unlimited secret money from wealthy special interests to support their campaigns, the FEC must investigate and hold all parties accountable for their blatant disregard of campaign finance laws.