Carly the campaign-outsourcer: Inside her super PAC's comical efforts to play the media

We've heard all about Jeb's super PAC shadiness. But so far, it's Carly Fiorina who's bending FEC rules the most

By Jim Newell

Published June 17, 2015 3:40PM (EDT)

Carly Fiorina (Reuters/Mike Theiler)
Carly Fiorina (Reuters/Mike Theiler)

Last Friday afternoon, I got the following voice mail on my cellphone:

Good morning, this is Steve DeMaura, the executive director of Carly for America, hope you're doing well. Just wanted to call and introduce myself and give you a quick update on how the campaign's doing. You can give me a call back on my cell phone, [XXX-XXX-XXXX], if you're interested in talking. I'd love the opportunity to connect with you and fill you in on how the campaign's going. Um, you may have seen recently that Fox upgraded Carly in their weekly power ranking to fourth place. Now, according to Fox, she's behind only Bush, Walker and Rubio. Um, we're really gaining momentum out there, I'd love the chance to update you. Um, again, this is Steve DeMaura, the executive director of Carly for America, my cell is [XXX-XXX-XXXX], or if it's easier for you... um, feel free to give me a call or shoot me an email... thanks so much, have a great day!

Republican campaigns that either are desperate or don't know what they're doing will occasionally try to get in touch with Salon Dot Com in efforts to spin us. It's always amusing. But there was something odd about this one. My phone didn't ring -- the message went straight to voice mail. It turns out that a number of journalists got this same voice mail at the same time, despite the friendly, personalized tone of ol' Steve DeMaura just try'na introduce himself and catch up on things. It was a robo-voice-mail. I tried calling the number he gave to leave my own voice mail, which was just going to be a string of obscenities, but his mailbox was full.

I'd also thought at first that "Carly for America" was the Carly Fiorina campaign. Typically "[First Name] for America" is an official campaign organization. DeMaura, or robot-DeMaura, or whoever/whatever this beast was, certainly played off this impression. He wanted to share a "quick update on how the campaign's doing," to "fill [me] in on how the campaign's going." Presumably he would be referring to the entity of which he is executive director, and presumably that would be the official presidential campaign of Carly Fiorina.

Not so! "Carly for America" was the super PAC backing Carly Fiorina, not the official campaign. We use the past tense because as of Monday, "Carly for America" no longer exists. It is now "CARLY for America." The acronym CARLY, per the organization's amended FEC filing, stands for "Conservative, Authentic, Responsible Leadership for You and for America," which is exceptionally funny.

"Carly for America," as the Wall Street Journal noted today, got in some hot water with the FEC for, well, directly breaking a campaign finance rule. The FEC sent a letter to the group in mid-May ordering it to "amend your Statement of Organization to change the name of your political committee so that it does not include the candidate's name and/or provide further clarification regarding the nature of your committee." So the organization just turned "Carly" into a terrible acronym, kept its website and logo the same, and will go about conducting business as usual. It probably could have gotten away with blowing off the FEC entirely, since the FEC's hands are so tied, but it chose to make a mockery of campaign finance rules instead.

And what is CARLY for America's business as usual? Posturing as the official campaign organization for Carly Fiorina's presidential bid, so as to solicit unlimited donations. So far Jeb Bush has gotten most of the attention as the candidate who's "outsourcing" traditional campaign duties to his $100 million super PAC, because Jeb Bush is a more viable candidate than Carly Fiorina. But Fiorina may be the one who's made the most strides thus far in breaking down the campaign/super PAC wall. It was this very same Steve DeMaura who told the Wall Street Journal in late April, shortly before Fiorina's launch, how he intended to use the press as a conduit for signaling with the official campaign.

Steve DeMaura, the executive director of the Carly for America super PAC, said his group will engage in recruiting and activating volunteers, contacting voters and even handling rapid response in the event that Mrs. Fiorina is attacked by the press or fellow candidates. Mr. DeMaura said he didn’t expect the campaign’s efforts to overlap with those of the super PAC.

He suggested that Mrs. Fiorina’s campaign could learn about the PAC’s activities without the two entities coordinating privately. “I would think that if the campaign read about our approach in The Wall Street Journal then they wouldn’t want to duplicate efforts,” said Mr. DeMaura. Mrs. Fiorina’s spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, declined to comment.

So there's Steve DeMaura -- our good dear friend Steve DeMaura, who just wants to get in touch and gab for a bit -- in a nutshell. He wants to robo-voice-mail a list of journalists and hope that a couple get back in touch with him so he can share a "quick update" on CARLY for America's efforts. Then maybe one of those sucker journalists will write up what CARLY for America has been up to, and then the official campaign can read about it and adjust its strategy accordingly to avoid "overlap."

Very clever, but also, not really. I don't think I'll make an effort to get back in touch with Steve DeMaura.


Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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