Heitkamp’s Campaign Skirts FEC Prohibitions on Working With Third Party Political Action Groups…Again

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. (Photo courtesy of Heitkamp's office)

Back in March I pointed out that Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign was skirting FEC rules prohibiting coordination between candidate campaigns and independent political action committees.

These organizations are not allowed to work together. They cannot communicate with one another. But Heitkamp, like some other politicians, has found a work around. Instead of communicating with these groups directly she simply makes assets available on her website – things like messaging and b-roll video footage – which the third party groups pick up and turn into ads.

Heitkamp’s campaign did with with the Senate Majority PAC – a group tied with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – in March and they’re doing it again now in June.

You could tell it was coming because last week Senator Heitkamp’s campaign dropped a statement titled “A Message North Dakotans Need to See” on their website (which has since been taken down).

Here’s a screenshot. I also saved the PDF of the talking points Heitkamp’s campaign put out as well, which you can read below.

“Heidi Heitkamp voted for billions of dollars in tax breaks for the middle-class, small businesses, and farmers. According to the Republican-controlled Congressional Budget Office, Kevin Cramer voted to increase the deficit by $1.9 trillion. He put Social Security and Medicare at risk to give tax breaks to millionaires and profitable corporations,” that statement said while it was up.

Now the Senate Majority PAC has a new ad out which just happens to use that exact same messaging (not to mention video footage the Heitkamp campaign has made available on YouTube):

Just to review, the Heitkamp campaign puts out “A Message North Dakotans Need to See” just long enough for the political action committee they are, by law, not supposed to be coordinating with to pick it up and turn it into an ad.

By the way, remember that Heitkamp herself is on the record opposing just this sort of politicking. “Billionaires outside North Dakota who don’t know anything about our state shouldn’t be able to impact North Dakotans’ opinions or how they vote through secret organizations that don’t have to disclose their donors,” Heitkamp said in a release accepting an award from an anti-political speech group (that also just happens to be funding that ethics committee ballot measure) . “It’s one example of the many problems with our campaign finance system, and it needs to change.”

To be fair to Heitkamp this isn’t some new tactic her campaign came up with. In 2014 the Washington Post reported on other campaigns doing this, calling it a “silent workaround” to the prohibition on coordination. “At a time in which super PACs and nonprofits play a huge role in elections but are barred from coordinating with candidates, this is one way for them to communicate silently, so to speak,” reporter Sean Sullivan wrote.

In 2015 The Atlantic flagged this B-Roll tactic as an example “of how campaigns and outside groups are pushing the limits that prohibit them from coordinating farther than ever.”

Federal law says candidate campaigns and independent political action groups cannot coordinate. And yet Heitkamp’s campaign, among others, are pretty clearly coordinating. They may not be violating the letter of the law, but certainly the spirit of it.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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