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The FEC Drops New Rules Affecting Super PACs
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The FEC Drops New Rules Affecting Super PACs

Plus: Can abortion politics help a Pennsylvania Democrat win reelection to the House?

Happy Wednesday! Is there a more devastating assessment of a colleague you can’t stand than “bless her heart”? Let us know in the comments.

Up to Speed

  • House Democratic leaders announced Tuesday they would block Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s effort to strip the gavel from Speaker Mike Johnson if the Georgia Republican introduces a “motion to vacate” resolution on the floor, saving his job for now. “At this moment, upon completion of our national security work, the time has come to turn the page on this chapter of Pro-Putin Republican obstruction,” Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Whip Katherine Clark, and Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar said in a joint statement. “We will vote to table Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Motion to Vacate the Chair. If she invokes the motion, it will not succeed.” As Dispatch Politics reported last week, Republican support for the motion to vacate has sputtered, at least temporarily.
  • But the announcement appears not to have deterred Greene, who announced Wednesday morning she will bring her motion to vacate to the floor next week. “I think the American people need to see a recorded vote of, do they, does Congress, does members of Congress support the uniparty? Is this what they support?” she said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “I think every member of Congress needs to take that vote and let the chips fall where they may.”
  • In a brief statement Wednesday, Johnson said, “This motion is wrong for the Republican Conference, wrong for the institution, and wrong for the country.”
  • On Tuesday, Manhattan Judge Juan Merchan found former President Donald Trump in violation of the gag order in his hush money trial, threatening incarceration if Trump did not stop violating it. “Defendant is hereby warned that the Court will not tolerate continued willful violations of its lawful orders and that if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, it will impose an incarceratory punishment,” Merchan wrote in his decision. Trump must pay a $9,000 fine by the end of the week, $1,000 for each violation—seven of which were on his Truth Social and two of which were on his campaign website.
  • Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. gained ballot access in a fourth state after receiving the nomination of the American Independent Party in California. His campaign says it has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in six other states, including New Hampshire, Nevada, and North Carolina. Thus far, the only swing state in which Kennedy has secured his name on the ballot is Michigan, where the Natural Law Party nominated him earlier this month. The news about Kennedy being on California’s ballot comes as he was ready to make a “major announcement” at a New York City press conference Wednesday.
  • College Democrats of America, the official collegiate arm of the Democratic National Committee, criticized President Joe Biden’s support for Israel amid its war against Hamas in Gaza. “The White House has taken the mistaken route of a bear hug strategy for Netanyahu and a cold shoulder strategy for its own base and all Americans who want to see an end to this war,” the group said in a statement posted to X. “Each day that Democrats fail to stand united for a permanent ceasefire, two-state solution, and recognition of a Palestinian state, more and more youth find themselves disillusioned with the party.” The organization also voiced support for pro-Palestinian student protesters who have occupied areas of college campuses across the country, saying the demonstrators “have had the moral clarity to see this war for what it is: destructive, genocidal, and unjust.” 

New Rules Permit Campaigns to (Partially) Coordinate with Super PACs

Donald Trump yard signs photographed on August 6, 2023, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Donald Trump yard signs photographed on August 6, 2023, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Federal Election Commission, in a little-noticed decision that could radically reshape campaign politics, is giving candidates the greenlight to coordinate with super PACs and other outside groups on door-to-door voter turnout activities.

Under the Texas Majority PAC advisory opinion the FEC issued on March 20, candidates for Congress and the White House are permitted to work directly with allied groups on the expensive, labor-intensive work of door-to-door voter canvassing. That includes giving strategic direction to supportive super PACs and other politically active organizations, as well as sharing preferred messaging. Additionally, the FEC’s advisory opinion also permits candidates to access the voter data collected from an allied group’s door-knocking—as long as their campaigns pay for it.

Political operatives on both sides of the aisle describe this development as consequential, saying it could change how candidates—especially presidential candidates—manage field operations. Some Republican insiders worry Democrats will gain yet another fundraising and infrastructure edge heading into November. “We’re concerned that it gives the Democrats an advantage because their outside groups are better funded and their people are easier to canvas,” a GOP election lawyer said, requesting anonymity to speak candidly. 

Meanwhile, there are a few legal caveats. 

The FEC’s Texas Majority PAC advisory opinion does not apply to phone banking, text messaging, or direct mail, crucial components of any get-out-the-vote effort. In other words, campaigns must still honor the ban on coordinating with outside groups vis-a-vis those activities. Additionally, election lawyers believe groups that coordinate door-to-door canvassing with candidates are going to have to “firewall” that effort from the rest of the organization, to ensure communications with the campaign, and the data gathered, are not used in advertising or messaging.

Until the FEC rendered this interpretation of campaign finance law, candidates were prohibited from communicating with outside groups—no exceptions.

So, even though super PACs can raise unlimited cash versus strict donor limits placed on campaigns, the inability to coordinate strategy and messaging—and to share in the trove of data—made relying on such groups for voter turnout risky. Further, it was usually ineffective. Exhibit A: Ron DeSantis and his 2024 president bid. The Florida governor delegated his ground game to a super PAC, Never Back Down. The effort devolved into infighting and produced a 30-point loss for DeSantis in Iowa’s caucuses.

With the barrier to coordinating on door-to-door canvassing lifted, farming out this key aspect of voter turnout to cash-flush super PACs and other resource-rich outside groups becomes eminently more feasible, strategically, since some of the problems that plagued DeSantis are less likely to emerge. Indeed, knowledgeable Republican sources tell Dispatch Politics that former President Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, and the Republican National Committee, are planning to cede door-knocking efforts to various outside groups.

This pending move is, in part, a workaround for the Trump campaign’s and the RNC’s lack of financial wherewithal compared to President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee. It could also help the former president build an infrastructure that at least reduces Biden’s superiority. The Democratic incumbent has opened 133 field offices and deployed scores of ground troops across key battleground states, CNN reports. As Dispatch Politics reported Friday, Trump and the RNC have virtually zero competing field presence.

Preparations for the RNC to shift a significant portion of traditional field operations to outside entities is expected to be a major topic of discussion Friday during an invite-only meeting, first reported by Politico, that the Trump campaign is convening in Palm Beach, Florida, with allied groups. 

In a letter obtained by Dispatch Politics inviting groups to the meeting, James Blair, political director for the RNC and the Trump campaign, tells them the plan for the gathering is to “share our macro view of the electorate with you and discuss new opportunities (in light of a recent FEC ruling) for our organizations to collaborate more effectively than we have been able to in the past.  We also ask you to come prepared to share any information you legally can about your priorities and plans with us.”

Although some GOP insiders are concerned that this reimagined field strategy will ultimately backfire, others are lauding the change. 

“They have discussed it, which is smart,” a veteran Republican voter turnout strategist said. This individual elaborated: “With this new FEC [advisory opinion,] they would be smart to encourage different groups to do a variety of tactics regarding ground game.” 

The RNC declined to comment for this story.

Will Abortion and MAGA Politics Save This Endangered Pennsylvania Dem?

For the last two cycles, Rep. Susan Wild has won reelection by some of the narrowest margins in the country. Could this be the year the Democrat from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley finally gets the boot?

Wild’s Republican opponent is state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, who won last week’s primary as an “America First” candidate running on a staunchly conservative platform that might be problematic with swing voters. But with Pennsylvania in play in the presidential election and the district increasingly leaning toward the GOP, Mackenzie could give Wild her toughest campaign yet.

The Cook Political Report rates the race as a toss-up and is among those that are pivotal to determining control of the House of Representatives. While Wild first won her seat by 10 points in 2018, a strong year for Democratic candidates across the country, her reelection margins have shrunk ever since. She won by just under 4 points in 2020 (when Joe Biden won it by less than a point) and, after redistricting brought in more Republican-leaning areas, by a mere 2 points in 2022.

But Wild had two major advantages two years ago that she can’t necessarily rely on in 2024. The first was the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade months before the 2022 midterms.

“She survived that cycle, I think, in significant part due to the increased salience of reproductive rights, which she embraced as an issue in her campaign,” said Christopher Borick, a professor and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.

Borick predicted that Wild would once again lean heavily into abortion in the fall, and a Republican in Pennsylvania familiar with the state’s politics said Wild “is probably going to smash Mackenzie” on it. But in an interview with Dispatch Politics, Mackenzie said abortion regulation is “best left to the states.”

“I don’t think a federal ban is the right place for it because, again, I don’t even think that you would get agreement on a 15-week or a 20-week proposal at the federal level,” he said. “I don’t see that happening, and I think we need to be focused on the border, the economy, and those issues.” Mackenzie added that he supports exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, and he stood by his vote for a 2017 bill that would have restricted abortion after 20 weeks in Pennsylvania. The state’s Democratic governor at the time, Tom Wolf, vetoed the bill.

Wild was also helped immensely by the weakness of Republican nominees in statewide races. Gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, a committed “Stop the Steal” Republican whom former President Donald Trump endorsed, lost to Democrat Josh Shapiro by nearly 15 points, while Mehmet Oz, whom Trump endorsed for the state’s open Senate seat, lost to Democrat John Fetterman by nearly 5 points.

“You had Mastriano at the top of the ticket, who was a catastrophe for down-ballot Republicans, and you had Oz, who, I think, was also a liability,” the Republican with knowledge of the state’s politics told Dispatch Politics

But that was a midterm election, and the dynamic will be very different with a presidential race. The latest CBS News poll of registered voters in Pennsylvania finds a statistically tied race: Trump at 50 percent and Joe Biden at 49 percent. And while Trump remains polarizing and a potential liability for Republican candidates like Mackenzie, Biden presents a similar vulnerability to Democrats like Wild.

“Both [Wild] and Mackenzie have individuals at the top of their ticket in President Biden and former President Trump that aren’t very positively viewed right now by voters,” Borick said. “And so, she’ll have to find ways to separate a bit in terms of some of the shortfalls that Biden might be perceived to have.”

Wild has staked out a position as a relative moderate within the Democratic caucus. In 2021, she criticized the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. This past January, she said that she would vote to save House Speaker Mike Johnson’s job if right-wing members of the GOP try to oust him. GovTrack has rated her as one of the more centrist Democrats in the House.

But Republicans have sought to shatter Wild’s more moderate reputation thus far in the race and associate her with Biden. Mackenzie told Dispatch Politics Wild is a “radical, far-left progressive,” and he has made multiple posts on X attacking Biden’s record and painting Wild as complicit in his shortcomings.

Wild’s campaign did not respond to an interview request.

Mackenzie does not appear concerned his association with Trump will hurt his chances in November. In addition to calling himself the “America First” candidate in the primary, he said he supports Trump and expects the presumptive GOP nominee will win Pennsylvania and the presidency in November.

“I’ve endorsed and supported Donald Trump in 2016, 2020, and [I’m] doing it again this year as well,” Mackenzie said. “I think that he helps our ticket. I think he is advocating and talking about the right issues that voters care about.”

Notable and Quotable

“This Judge has taken away my Constitutional Right to FREE SPEECH. I am the only Presidential Candidate in History to be GAGGED. This whole “Trial” is RIGGED, and by taking away my FREEDOM OF SPEECH, THIS HIGHLY CONFLICTED JUDGE IS RIGGING THE PRESIDENTIAL OF 2024 ELECTION. ELECTION INTERFERENCE!!!”

—Former President Donald Trump in a Truth Social post responding to Judge Juan Merchan finding him in violation of a gag order, April 30, 2024

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Charles Hilu is a reporter for The Dispatch based in Virginia. Before joining the company in 2024, he was the Collegiate Network Fellow at the Washington Free Beacon and interned at both National Review and the Washington Examiner. When he is not writing and reporting, he is probably listening to show tunes or following the premier sports teams of the University of Michigan and city of Detroit.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.