Did Karl Rove conspire to violate campaign finance laws?

New report raises questions about GOP super PACs' questionable maneuvering

Published November 17, 2014 2:15PM (EST)

Karl Rove                   (AP/Rich Pedroncelli)
Karl Rove (AP/Rich Pedroncelli)

Did Republicans and outside groups conspire to skirt campaign finance laws -- on Twitter?

That's the question raised by a new report from CNN's Chris Moody, who documents how the GOP and the outside groups used anonymous Twitter accounts to share the results of internal polls, which may constitute a violation of campaign finance regulations that ban coordination.

Reportedly set up this summer, the Twitter accounts were deleted Nov. 3 -- one day before the midterm elections -- once CNN inquired about the matter with the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP's campaign arm. The other groups that had access to the polling data included American Crossroads, the super PAC helmed by longtime GOP operative Karl Rove, and American Action Network, a super PAC run by former Republican campaign aide Brian Walsh and chaired by former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota.

One tweet cited by Moody read, "CA-40/43-44/49-44/44-50/36-44/49-10/16/14-52-->49/476-10s." Those numbers indicate the results of internal surveys in different congressional districts. Sharing such information could violate the prohibition on coordination because, as Moody notes, broadcasting the polling results could have been a way of sending signals about where to devote campaign resources.

Here's the rub: Moody points out that posting the data on Twitter -- a public social network -- may be a "convenient loophole" to the law. "It's a line that has not been defined. This is really on the cutting edge," the Campaign Legal Center's Paul S. Ryan told CNN. "It might not be legal. It's a cutting edge practice that, to my knowledge, the Federal Election Commission has never before addressed to explicitly determine its legality or permissibility."

Ohio State University law professor Daniel Tokaji, meanwhile, doesn't believe the accounts violated the law.  "A lot of things you and I would consider coordination are not coordination under the law," he said.

While the Federal Election Commission -- riven by political division -- is unlikely to act on the issue, the story is further evidence that the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which removed limits on outside spending, has fostered a new set of problems. The FEC responded to the court ruling by banning coordination, but there's no consensus on what that entails. A still-open probe has examined whether top advisers to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker illegally coordinated with outside advisers ahead of the governor's 2012 recall campaign. Emails link Walker to the alleged coordination.

By Luke Brinker

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