Here's yet another consequence of the confusing super PAC era: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., may have irritated members of his conference by donating to an anti-incumbent super PAC before the Illinois primary, but Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., could have violated campaign finance rules when he solicited Cantor's donation.
Last week, Roll Call reported that Cantor donated $25,000 to the Campaign for Primary Accountability as a way of supporting freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill, against fellow Republican Rep. Don Manzullo in a member-versus-member primary in the state's 16th District (The group ultimately spent over $220,000 against Manzullo). According to both Cantor's camp and Schock himself, Cantor cut the check at Schock's request.
That's where Schock treads dangerously close to the line drawn by the FEC. In an advisory opinion issued last year, the FEC says that federal officeholders and candidates "may solicit up to $5,000 from individuals (and any other source not prohibited by the Act from making a contribution to a political committee)" on behalf of super PACs. Candidates may appear at fundraisers on behalf of super PACs, but they cannot be involved in asking for checks larger than $5,000 -- the reason Cantor, Mitt Romney, Harry Reid or even President Obama, for that matter, can appear at fundraisers for supportive super PACs, but they have to leave the room before staffers ask for donations in order to raise unlimited sums.
Schock, it seems, directly asked for a contribution well above the limit the FEC allowed.
From Roll Call:
Cantor campaign spokesman Ray Allen told Roll Call that Cantor made the donation at the request of Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) for use only in the Kinzinger-Manzullo race.
"On Thursday, March 15, 2012, Leader Cantor was asked by Congressman Schock to contribute to an organization that was supporting Adam Kinzinger in the Illinois election of March 20. ERICPAC subsequently made a contribution with the understanding that those funds would be used only in the effort to support Congressman Kinzinger," Allen said.
[Schock:] "I said, 'Look, I'm going to do $25,000 [specifically] for the Kinzinger campaign for the television campaign' and said, 'Can you match that?'"
"And he said, 'Absolutely.'"
The onus, in solicitation cases, appears to fall on the solicitor, rather than the donor. Cantor's donation upset Republican House members who have either faced or are concerned about facing CPA in the future, but by asking for that specific amount of cash, Schock may have run afoul of the FEC's limit on solicitations to super PACs by a federal candidate or officeholder.
A Schock spokesperson would not specifically address the episode in question, but said that Schock double-checked his legal standing before getting involved with CPA. "We vetted this contribution through an attorney specializing in FEC compliance and the giving and soliciting of hard money was deemed perfectly legal," the spokesperson said. That is true, up to a point; the contribution is certainly legal (an individual or group can give any amount to a super PAC). The question centers, however, on the solicitation, and whether Schock overstepped legal boundaries in asking for such a large contribution.
No federal officeholder has been accused of violating the letter of the advisory opinion yet, and the dysfunction at the FEC -- where partisan feuds between the three Democrats and three Republicans have virtually ground the commission to a halt -- make it unlikely Schock will be punished any time soon.
But the case highlights the delicate dance federal candidates face at a time when campaign finance law is changing so rapidly. Until the commission rules more definitively, expect more of these types of apparent violations to trip some candidates up.