The super PACs backing Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential run have yet to reserve any TV time in the early primary states -- or anywhere else -- despite a combined $38 million war chest that ranks second among presidential contenders only to Jeb Bush’s $103 million operation. The total absence of ads has created confusion and growing consternation inside the Cruz campaign, which cannot legally communicate with its allied super PACs and has had to watch as its rivals lock in tens of millions of dollars in ads before prices spike, as they typically do as elections near.
Super PACs can be extremely beneficial to presidential candidates. A billionaire wants to write a $10 million check to help get you elected? An individual campaign can't accept a contribution that large, but you can direct that donor to your super PAC, which can legally accept checks of any size.
But there's a catch: campaigns cannot coordinate with their allied super PACs, which are at least technically "independent expenditure" entities. Some campaigns blur the lines more than others, but presidential hopefuls and their staffers who follow the law are not supposed to have any influence whatsoever over super PACs, their ads, their tactics, or their campaign strategies.
And once in a while, that poses a real problem. Take Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), for example.
Cruz, arguably more than most, has been very careful about following the letter of the law. There are four similarly named super PACs backing his national campaign, and they've collectively raised an enormous amount of money -- picking up a few eight-figure checks -- but the Texas Republican knows he can't legally direct those super PACs to do anything, and so he hasn't.
The trouble is, while plenty of other candidates are benefiting from their outside groups going on spending sprees, the four pro-Cruz super PACs are just sitting on their piles of cash, much to the candidate's chagrin. What's the senator to do?
This gets a meta, but the solution apparently involves calling up Politico, which ran this fascinating report yesterday.
It's an amazing thing to watch. The Cruz campaign can't contact the super PACs to say, "It's important that you start buying airtime right away," so the campaign instead talked to Politico, effectively saying on the record, "You know, we'd be really happy if our super PACs started buying airtime right away."
None of this constitutes secret coordination, because there's obviously nothing secret about it. It's also not technically coordination, since the campaign never got in touch with the super PACs directly -- Cruz aides just have to hope their allies see the article.
And in an interesting twist, they did. The New York Times' Nick Corasaniti noted this morning that less than a day after the Politico piece ran, a Cruz super PAC announced the release of a series of new radio ads. It's a safe bet additional announcements will soon follow.
Dealing with complex campaign-finance laws sometimes requires some creativity. Evidently, Team Cruz has some effective ideas about coordinating without coordinating.