Legal group: Romney super PAC flagrantly violating election law

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, February 24, 2012 12:27 EDT
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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Photo: Gage Skidmore.
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A Romney-supporting super PAC claimed this week that it did not violate federal election regulations against unlawful coordination when it recycled an official Romney campaign ad from 2007 — but a campaign finance watchdog tells Raw Story that they’re attempting to explain away a violation they’re not even accused of.

It’s not the coordination statutes their ad violates, but prohibitions against republication of official campaign materials, Campaign Legal Center attorney Paul S. Ryan said Friday.

Ryan’s group insists that what the Restore Our Future PAC has done is patently illegal, noting that federal regulations barring third party groups from re-using campaign materials are abundantly clear, and illustrate that the Restore Our Future PAC is flagrantly skirting the law.

The super PAC’s ad, released Thursday and set to air in two states, is virtually identical to an official ad put out by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2007. It features one of Romney’s former business partners, Robert Gay, recalling a story of how his daughter went missing and Romney shut down his entire company and hauled 50 employees to New York City to search for the girl.

A key difference between the ads in 2007 and today: the original ends with, “I’m Mitt Romney, and I approved this message,” while the 2012 version ends with, “Brought to you by Restore Our Future.”

Ryan told Raw Story that Federal Election Commission rules state “very clearly” that financing the republication of “any campaign materials prepared by a candidate or an agent of the candidate” is flatly outlawed. That’s even the case if they claim to have purchased the rights to the campaign materials from a third party, which is precisely what the super PAC claims to have done.

While Raw Story was not able to reach any of the top officials at Restore Our Future, they told CBS News on Thursday that they brought rights to the ad from a company called Cold Harbor Films, which originally produced the ad, meaning they were clear of rules barring coordination.

“It seems Restore Our Future is not likely guilty of a coordination ban… but this particular rule on republication of campaign materials does appear to have been violated by the super PAC,” Ryan said.

The law they appear to have violated says that copyright does not matter when it pertains to officially sanctioned campaign materials, like the 2007 Romney ad. Sec. 109.23 of federal campaign regulations makes it clear, the only exceptions to this restriction pertain to opposition groups, journalists and other campaigns using official materials as a “brief quote.”

“But this seems like a pretty clear violation to me,” Ryan concluded. “So, I would certainly hope there would be a unanimous agreement among the six [FEC] commissioners that an investigation should occur.”

However, the FEC is not likely to take action against the super PAC due to the commission’s 50-50 partisan divide, which has stymied numerous calls for investigations in the past. If the FEC did decide to launch an investigation, it isn’t likely to conclude before the 2012 presidential election, and the only real penalty that could be imposed is a fine.

The Romney campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Watch the 2007 Romney campaign ad, below:

Watch the 2012 Restore Our Future ad, below:

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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