Moreover, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has defined independence so narrowly that it is almost meaningless. A candidate's former staff members can (and often do) run super PACs backing them, and the candidates themselves can appear at the super PAC's fund-raisers. When asked recently if a super PAC would run afoul of the independence rules by running ads that featured a candidate, were "fully co-ordinated" with his campaign, relied on his website for inspiration and were intended to win him re-election, the FEC could not decide. The three Democratic commissioners thought this would break the rules; the three Republicans thought not.
As a result, says Trevor Potter, a former FEC commissioner, PACs have become "wings of the campaigns". In fact, in some respects, they overshadow the campaigns. The super PACs promoting the four remaining Republican presidential contenders raised more money in January than the campaigns themselves did. They also have more cash on hand, and less debt. Barack Obama, meanwhile, has stopped discouraging outside spending on his behalf, and now says he will send cabinet secretaries to fund-raisers for his super PAC.
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