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Democracy 21, Campaign Legal Center: James Bopp's Republican Super PAC Is Illegal

First Posted: 05/17/11 08:23 PM ET Updated: 01/12/12 10:00 PM ET

James Bopp Jr
James Bopp Jr.

WASHINGTON -- Republican officials beware! Two good-government groups are warning that GOP politicians will be violating federal law if they solicit unlimited contributions for the newly-minted "Republican Super PAC."

The new fundraising group is the brainchild of James Bopp Jr., a lawyer and Republican National Committee member who can take some credit for the "Citizens United" Supreme Court ruling last year that wiped out most of the post-Watergate campaign finance reform regulations.

Bopp thinks he's come up with a way around one of the last remaining strictures still standing -- the one prohibiting elected officials and party officials from directly soliciting or receiving unlimited campaign funds. He claims that, as long as those officials aren't involved in precisely how the money is spent once it's been received by his Super PAC, it still counts as an "independent" expenditure. This argument may be difficult to pull off, given Bopp's own status as a Republican Party member.

The reformers at Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center say he's gone too far.

"That's the one piece of McCain-Feingold's anti-corruption ban that still stands," said Trevor Potter, head of the Campaign Legal Center and a former Federal Elections Commission (FEC) chairman. Named after the Arizona Republican and Wisconsin Democrat who introduced the legislation in the Senate, McCain-Feingold is the campaign finance reform bill passed in 2002. It embodied the notion that allowing elected officials to be in a position to solicit or receive unlimited funds would inevitably result in the buying and selling of political favors.

Bopp's plan, according to a statement from the two reform groups, "would appear to violate multiple federal campaign finance laws because of the involvement of members of the RNC in establishing and controlling the PAC and because of the planned use of federal officeholders and candidates to solicit unlimited contributions for the PAC."

Bans on both activities have been upheld even by the current Supreme Court, the groups noted.

"Every member of Congress and every federal candidate should be on notice that it would be a violation of the law for them to solicit unlimited contributions for 'Republican Super PAC' or for any other Super PAC."

The rules currently allow individuals to give no more than $2,500 to a candidate per election and $30,800 to a national party committee per year. Such donations from corporate PACs are also limited. Individuals and corporations can now donate unlimited amounts to Super PACs and other such groups -- as long as those groups don't coordinate with candidates' campaigns or party committees.

Bopp's approach would create an environment in which candidates who have already raised the maximum amount from donors could hit them up for unlimited funds, which could even be earmarked for specific races.

"It's outrageous," said Potter, who recently has rocketed to stardom as the lawyer helping Stephen Colbert create his Super PAC.

Potter noted that Bopp created his group without asking the FEC for an advisory opinion. "He's actually going to do it and just dare anyone to go after him," Potter said. "I think what he's gambling on here is that, even if someone goes after him, they won't do anything until after the election."

The former FEC chairman said the ability of elected officials to ask for or receive unlimited money is an invitation to shakedowns -- "nice little bill there; wouldn't want anything to happen to it" -- and bribery.

Under the rules as they stand, the requests for unlimited money come from people who must legally be campaign outsiders -- certainly not from the candidates themselves.

"Under the current system, they're not asking, and they're not thanking you," Potter said. "The fact that it's at a distance I think does make it less corrupt."

Bopp makes his official pitch to his fellow RNC members Wednesday morning in Dallas. In the invitation to the meeting, he called his proposal "[t]he best way to neutralize President Obama’s unprecedented $1 billion political warchest and the political spending by labor unions and wealthy Democrats."

Bopp could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening. But he told the Wall Street Journal on Monday that he expected opposition from good-government groups. "Who cares," he said. "The Supreme Court doesn’t care, and I don’t care, and the [Federal Election Commission] doesn’t care. No one that matters cares."

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Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for The Huffington Post. You can send him an email, bookmark his page; subscribe to his RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get email alerts when he writes.

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