Rick Berg’s Campaign Finance Work-Around


This illustrates the absurdity of America’s campaign finance laws. Far from making politics more transparent and accountable, the maze of laws and regulations put in place supposedly to control political money are making politics less transparent and accountable.

Case in point, Rep. Rick Berg’s campaign for the US Senate which has found a work-around to the ban on communication between the campaign and third-party groups. The law defines coordination as direct communication. But if the campaign hires an intermediary to facilitate communication, all is well.

In North Dakota, Republicans and outside groups appear to have figured out a clever workaround.

Last week, Crossroads GPS, one of the conservative political nonprofits tied to Karl Rove, dropped $70,000 in ads attacking North Dakota Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp, bringing their spending to approximately $140,000 in the race so far. Heitkamp’s opponent is Republican congressman Rick Berg. It would be totally illegal for Berg’s campaign to talk to Crossroads GPS and tell them, say, where he thinks it would be most helpful for them to buy ads. But that doesn’t mean the message can’t be conveyed through an intermediary.

Last month, Berg’s campaign finance filings to the FEC showed that his campaign paid the Black Rock Group, a small but powerful Republican strategic consulting firm in Virginia, thousands of dollars for “communications consulting.” Meanwhile, American Crossroads, the “twin” organization of Crossroads GPS (they have the same staff, same offices and the same mission, just different tax and legal structures), is paying thousands of dollars each month to the same firm for “advocacy [and] communications consulting.”

Black Rock group has three partners. The founding partner, Carl Forti, also happens to be American Crossroads’ political director and has served as Crossroads GPS’ advocacy director. (He also helped start Restore Our Future, Mitt Romney’s super PAC.) Another partner, Michael Dubke, is also the founder of Crossroads Media, which does all the ad buying for both American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. Black Rock and Crossroads Media even share the same office.

All this might lead one to wonder if the same people at the firm working to help Berg’s campaign are also helping Crossroads’ pro-Berg campaign in North Dakota. One might also suspect that, even though Berg and Crossroads GPS are prohibited from coordinating, that someone placed conveniently between the campaign and the outside group could facilitate the activity on both sides. With just three partners, it seems entirely possible, even likely. But it doesn’t matter, as it would be entirely aboveboard.

“The real scandal here is what’s legal,” Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, told Salon.

The left argues that we need to further restrict this sort of coordination to fight the corporate political hegemony, blah, blah, blah.

Really, though, why shouldn’t groups independent of Berg’s campaign be able to spend money on advertising and other sorts of political activities to support him? And why shouldn’t Berg’s campaign be able to communicate with them?

And do we really believe there’s any set of laws or regulations that could ever prevent that sort of coordination from happening?

Campaign finance reforms have only served to drive this sort of coordination and cooperation underground. The regulation of political speech as only exacerbated the problems the regulation was supposed to solve in the first place.

As is almost always the case, the solution here is for the government to do less, not more.

Meanwhile, the DSCC just made an “independent expenditure” on this ad ripping Berg for “tax cuts for millionaires” and “essentially ending Medicare.”

We’re supposed to believe that Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign didn’t coordinate with the DSCC on this ad at all.

Rob Port

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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