Lee Drutman reported in 2014:
A new report from Daniel Tokaji and Renata Strause at The Ohio State University’s Election Law @ Moritz is out today, and it provides an excellent overview. “The New Soft Money: Outside Spending in Congressional Elections” is based on interviews with former members, campaign operatives and other staffers. It’s quite wide ranging, and worth reading in full.
Legally, campaigns and independent groups like super PACs are prohibited from coordinating. After all, that’s what makes them “independent groups.” But as this report reveals, there is a delicate dance to coordination. And operatives have figured the moves.
The primary move in the coordination two-step involves changing partners. As one operative said: “It’s all operatives moving back and forth between the parties and the groups and the campaigns – and it’s mostly people who can finish each other’s sentences.”
Here’s former Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., calling the idea of independence “nonsense”:
So this whole idea well, oh, they don’t coordinate, therefore it’s really independent is just nonsense. If you look at who makes up these organizations, on all sides, they’re loaded with political operatives. They know the way these campaigns are run, modern campaigns. They can see for themselves what’s up on the air. They can see the polling, a lot of it’s public. Some of it’s, you know not public but pretty much the same thing as what’s public. So they don’t need to talk to anybody in the campaign in order to know what to do.
And here’s an anonymous campaign operative, saying more or less the same thing: “At the end of the day, it’s all just kind of a fiction – it’s just kind of a farce, the whole campaign finance non-coordination thing.”
Sometimes the dance involves an outside group leading, and a candidate following. That is, candidates look to see what outside groups might be around and willing to step in, and then try to appeal to those outside groups. Here’s former Rep. Joe Walsh, D-Ill., explaining how the potential of outside groups stepping in shaped his campaign strategy:
I think early on that summer you begin to hear of or learn of other outside groups or individuals or interests who may have an interest in helping. And, you know, again, ... it’s my downfall ... [I] can’t tell a lie. You factor that into how you’re going to run your campaign. You don’t for sure know that this big wealthy guy’s coming in but you’ve heard he is. You don’t exactly know how much he’s going to spend, but you look at what you have to do, what Duckworth’s going to do. And so a campaign factors it into your over – all game plan.Operatives also described the “b-roll” trick that Jon Stewart recently called attention to with his “McConnelling” segment. As Tokaji and Strause explain, “The most common signaling tactic we heard about in our interviews was the quiet release of 'b-roll,' high-resolution photographs, and targeted talking points, either available through a hidden link on the campaign’s website or through some other microsite or YouTube account.”
Herrnson, p. 84:
Why relatively little on TV? Consider districts and DMAs