By Bob Bauer
The theory behind keeping candidates from coordinating with “outside group” issue advocacy is that the candidates have to account for the benefits they receive from associating with their allies. If the groups spend money on issues also identified with the candidates, then the candidates are getting “contributions” that must be tracked and limited—or prohibited, as in the case of corporate contributions.
Of course, much of the energy behind this demand for strict limits on “coordination” is derived from suspicion of the ads: the belief that they are shams, adding nothing to the debate and merely transferring media expenses from the candidates to the supporters. But the arguments to regulate this advertising go farther, as now evident in the Wisconsin legal controversy over the Walker recall election. The complaint is not only about ads that name and either praise or condemn candidates, or contain some other obvious electioneering language or imagery. It extends to ads that carry none of that content, but that take up a cause a candidate shares, in coordination with the candidate. The circle of suspects at risk of illegal coordination is all-inclusive: established gay or women’s rights organizations, or labor unions, as well as fly-by-nights with names like Citizens for a Just World and Americans against Evil.