Independence, Coordination & Super PACs in the 2016 Presidential Election

Yesterday we celebrated Independence Day. In the next three weeks, the Nation will focus on the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. We cannot turn on the television without catching a political ad. Some ads will be run by the candidates themselves. Based on recent reports filed with the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”), there is a good chance that many ads will be run by Super PACs.

Although Super PACs are required to disclose their donors, it is not always clear who is behind a Super PAC ad and whether a Super PAC is truly independent from a candidate, a party or their agents. The FEC has, therefore, adopted a three-prong test to determine whether a Super PAC is acting independently and is, therefore, entitled to receive unlimited contributions.

Under the FEC’s coordination test, when an election-related communication (content prong) has been paid for by a third-party (payment prong), the FEC will ask the following questions (conduct prong) to determine whether the ad was coordinated:

  • Was the communication created, produced or distributed at the request or suggestion of the candidate, party or their agents?
  • Was the candidate, party committee or their agents materially involved in decisions related to the ad’s content, intended audience, mode of communications, etc.?
  • Were there substantial discussions between the Super PAC and the candidate, party or their agents?
  • Does the Super PAC share a common vendor with the candidate, party or their agents?
  • Does the Super PAC employ an employee or independent contractor who worked for the candidate or party committee during the previous 120 days?

Because proving an ad was not coordinated, isn’t always as easy as 1-2-3, it is not too late for Super PACs involved in the 2016 presidential election to develop policies, procedures and protocols to help protect against potential allegations of coordination.