The message from Sal Russo, the chief strategist for the Tea Party Express, was breathless. “We just got off the phone with the McDaniel campaign,” Russo wrote in an email to the group’s supporters, “and they need our help!”
The problem: The Tea Party Express is an independent group that is promising to intervene in the Mississippi Republican runoff election between Senate candidate Chris McDaniel and Sen. Thad Cochran. As such, the group is not legally allowed to coordinate strategy with McDaniel, or his campaign.
“That would seem to be pretty clear coordination,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign spending, of the Russo email.
Under federal election law, outside groups like Russo’s, which is registered as the Our Country Deserves Better PAC, are allowed to spend money unlimitedly to benefit candidates, but with the restriction that they are not allowed to coordinate spending. A phone call between them urging support, “to me, clearly contradicts the rules,” Krumholz said. “I would think this would raise the red flag for enforcement folks at the Federal Election Commission.”
Russo told National Journal, “We just can’t coordinate expenditures, and we don’t do that.”
The Tea Party Express has not yet reported spending any money on McDaniel’s behalf, but the email suggested that such support is imminent. “We are making emergency preparations and plans to head back to Mississippi to campaign for Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel,” read one part of the email.
The group ended April with $847,000 in cash and about $95,000 in debts. It has reported spending about $161,000 in so-called independent expenditures thus far this cycle.
The goal of the Russo email was to bolster that war chest, specifically by soliciting money from supporters to help McDaniel, who finished first in the Mississippi primary this week but below the 50 percent threshold he needed to win outright. A runoff will be held in less than three weeks.
“The Tea Party Express is going all in and heading down to Mississippi,” Russo wrote.
Taylor Budowich, executive director of Tea Party Express, said there was no illegal coordination, even if the email “reads a little odd.”
“We congratulated the campaign on winning the primary,” Budowich said of the phone call. He said the McDaniel campaign did not ask for any assistance. “There probably should be a period there, but it’s two separate statements,” he said. “”¦ It’s not the campaign asked us for our help.”
“The law says we cannot coordinate expenditures,” Budowich continued, “You can communicate with a campaign. You can’t coordinate expenditures. Completely, two different things.”
“Chris McDaniel is proud to have the support of the Tea Party Express, and we were happy to receive a call from them expressing their renewed support going into a new electoral cycle, and, as required by law, we avoided any conversation about what they intend to do,” said Noel Fritsch, a spokesman for McDaniel.
What We're Following See More »
"Even if House Republicans manage to get enough members of their party on board with the latest version of their health care bill, they will face another battle in the Senate: whether the bill complies with the chamber’s arcane ... Byrd rule, which stipulates all provisions in a reconciliation bill must affect federal spending and revenues in a way that is not merely incidental." Democrats should have the advantage in that fight, "unless the Senate pulls another 'nuclear option.'”
The House has passed a one-week spending bill that will avert a government shutdown which was set to begin at midnight. Lawmakers now have an extra week to come to a longer agreement which is expected to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September. The legislation now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass before President Trump signs it.
President Trump’s portrayal of an effort to funnel more Medicaid dollars to Puerto Rico as a "bailout" is complicating negotiations over a continuing resolution on the budget. "House Democrats are now requiring such assistance as a condition for supporting the continuing resolution," a position that the GOP leadership is amenable to. "But Mr. Trump’s apparent skepticism aligns him with conservative House Republicans inclined to view its request as a bailout, leaving the deal a narrow path to passage in Congress."
Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.