Ethics Watchdogs Focusing on Perry Campaign
Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign has come under some scrutiny for how it’s paid for some campaign travel and for the governor’s security. There are also questions about whether Perry was making presidential campaign phone calls from his office before he declared his candidacy.
Let’s start with the phone calls. The Associated Press says those calls from Perry’s office went out to major donors across the state. Perry also had plenty of pre-candidacy travel to speeches across the country in the weeks leading up to his candidacy announcement.
All suspect, says Craig Holman of Public Citizen, a national policy and political watchdog group, but also all a regular part of many candidates’ pre-campaign schedule.
“If you come from a state like Texas for instance, where there are no limits, that allows a candidate with a substantial opportunity to raise and spend a great deal of money getting their name around the country, while not actually formally declaring that they’re running for president,” Holman said.
Holman says it’s also hard to prove that anyone is breaking the rules, because you can’t be considered a candidate until you actually are. Once someone does join the race, you might think the law is pretty black and white on what you can and can’t do with your campaign money. But Melanie Sloan with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington says that’s not the case.
“Members of Congress have taken trips, for example, to golf resorts to play golf with donors,” Sloan said. “And that has been considered not personal use. And yet regular people think, how can you go to a luxury resort and play golf on a campaign dime?”
Sloan says some illegal campaign expenditures that her group and others watch for are innocent mistakes, made because campaign finance laws are complicated.
“On the other hand, I think candidates also don’t want to spend their own money on anything,” she said. “They figure, I’m a candidate and I have this big campaign account often with millions of dollars or at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in it. And why can’t I use it?”
But Holman says this year’s election will focus less on campaign mistakes, or even attempts to break the rules. He says this election cycle is all about the elimination of the rules — in the form of super PACs. Those are political action committees that aren’t allowed to coordinate with a candidate.
But they are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of corporate money to advocate for a single candidate.
“This super PAC phenomenon is far worse than any activities we’ve seen by candidates or party committees to try to evade the laws,” Holman said. “These entities literally have no limits and have no restrictions, and it’s questionable whether they even have to disclose what they’re doing.”
Super PACs are already spending money on campaign ads for Perry in Iowa. But Holman says for the most part we won’t know the full extent of super PAC powers until we head into the general election.