WASHINGTON -- In another sign of the close ties between super PACs and elected officials, seven newly minted Democratic House members appear in a promotional video for a super PAC that helped them win election in 2012.
The online video, released Tuesday by House Majority PAC, features the seven singing the super PAC's praises for helping to even the playing field for Democrats, who face massive outside spending by conservative organizations like Karl Rove's Crossroads groups and the Koch brothers' network of independent nonprofits.
"We were grateful to see House Majority PAC form so we could actually have allies on our side that were helping us get our message out," Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) says in the video. "That really was, in many ways, the difference in the outcome and one of the big reasons why we won this time."
Bera was elected to Congress in November after losing his 2010 bid when a last-minute $700,000 ad buy by Crossroads helped to halt his momentum.
"If it weren't for House Majority PAC, I wouldn't be here today," says Rep. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
That sentiment is echoed by Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), who says, "I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for the tremendous help of House Majority PAC." And Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) chimes in, "I simply couldn't have done it without them."
Also appearing in the video are Reps. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) and Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.).
These appearances, perhaps not surprisingly, do not violate the loose federal rules prohibiting coordination between candidates and independent groups like House Majority PAC. The coordination rules only prohibit candidates and independent groups from discussing the placement, distribution and content of campaign-related ads, mailers, and get-out-the-vote and other activities. Because the House Majority PAC video simply promotes the group, in the style of a Proactiv or Lifestyle Lift infomercial, and not the lawmakers as candidates, it does not cross the legal threshold for coordination.
For the same reason, the video does not violate election rules that prohibit candidates from appearing in ads made by independent groups.
During the 2012 elections, Rove's Crossroads groups asked the Federal Election Commission if they could run an ad that promoted a candidate running for office and featured original video of that candidate shot by Crossroads. Their lawyer, Thomas Josefiak, admitted that they were coordinating but not, in his view, in a legal sense. "Certainly they're coordinated, but we're using that in the lay sense," said Josefiak. The FEC ultimately deadlocked in a 3-3 vote, keeping in place the current rules frowning on the practice.
The House Majority PAC video also includes a disclaimer, shown on the screen for each lawmaker, stating that the House member "is not asking for funds or donations." This disclaimer appears because lawmakers are allowed to solicit for contributions of no more than $5,000 for a super PAC. While the ad does not explicitly ask for money, it does direct viewers to the super PAC's website, where a contribution of any size could be made.
"As long as Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, and other 'dark money' groups are going to exist, it's important that progressives fight back," House Majority PAC spokesman Andy Stone said. "And in the meantime, we're honored that Republicans think so much of our work. We look forward to holding them accountable and building on our progress."
Still, the mere appearance of sitting lawmakers in a video for a super PAC is certain to highlight questions about how independent these groups actually are.
This story has been updated with comment from a House Majority PAC spokesman.