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Democratic Super PACs ask FEC to OK candidate fundraising

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Following on the heels of the new fundraising strategy laid out by James Bopp Jr. for Republican Super PAC, a pair of similar Democratic groups -- also known as independent expenditure-only committees -- have asked the Federal Election Commission to rule on whether party committee officials and candidates for federal office can permissibly raise unlimited funds from any source for these outside organizations. 

The letter, sent on behalf of the House Majority PAC and the Majority PAC by Marc E. Elias, Ezra W. Reese and Jonathan S. Berkon of the Perkins Coie law firm, also asks whether candidates can participate in fundraisers for independent expenditure-only committees if they do not directly solicit contributions. 

It's not clear from FEC rules whether the advisory opinion request will be answered. "Requests presenting a general question of interpretation, or posing a hypothetical situation, or regarding the activities of third parties, do not qualify as advisory opinion requests," the regulations state. The Perkins Coie letter does not ask about a specific politician or party official or fundraising event, but rather whether Bopp's Republican Super PAC strategy complies with FEC rules. At issue is a ruling in a challenge to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, better known as McCain-Feingold, which barred federal candidates from raising "soft money" -- contributions to political parties from corporate or labor sources that could not be used to directly influence federal elections.

Bopp, the Indiana lawyer who was a key architect of the Citizens United challenge to campaign finance laws that limited corporate spending to influence elections, launched a committee last week -- first reported by the Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group -- that intends to rely on Republican party committee officials and candidates to solicit donations for it. Though federal election law currently bars such organizations from coordinating with party committees and candidates, Bopp argues that, "There’s no coordination issue. What you can’t coordinate is the expenditure of funds. We don’t coordinate the spending with anyone."

He further stated that the ban on candidates and party officials raising soft money does not apply to independent expenditure-only groups. "The law provides that a candidate can solicit hard money," he said.

The Perkins Coie advisory opinion letter does not raise the soft money/hard money distinction -- whether contributions to independent expenditure-only committees are indeed hard money that candidates can solicit, even if they can't direct how that money is spent -- but asks instead whether candidates can raise funds for Super PACs, or alternatively participate in Super PAC fundraisers without soliciting funds.

Perkins Coie is the law firm of current White House Counsel Robert Bauer. Elias replaced Bauer as the head of the firm's election law practice group.

Publicly, the White House has been critical of the Citizens United and related SpeechNow Supreme Court decisions, which opened the door to outside spending to influence elections by corporations and labor unions.