Judge: Super PACs May Donate to Candidates

Posted June 15, 2011 at 8:56pm

Super PACs may have an added special power following a federal court ruling this week.

Super PACs can already collect unlimited funds to spend on campaign ads in support of a candidate. A preliminary injunction issued Tuesday lets them also act like conventional political action committees and donate up to $5,000 to the same candidate’s campaign, so long as the funds are kept separate.

Under U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer’s decision in the case Carey v. Federal Election Commission, a PAC may use soft money for independent expenditures and donate hard money to federal candidates as long as the funds are kept in different accounts.

The expanded ability does not apply to candidate committees, leadership PACs or party committees, according to Jan Baran, co-chairman of the Election Law Group of the law firm Wiley Rein.

Collyer’s decision essentially greenlights a new hybrid of conventional PAC and super PAC, and it reflects recent court rulings against the FEC in cases won by SpeechNow.org and Citizens United.

Baran said there has been an “incremental” transition in power from national parties and candidates to PACs, beginning in 2002 with the enactment of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
“That’s one of the ironies,” he said. “The current law is that the people who need the money the most, like parties and candidates, cannot raise soft money, but those PACs that don’t need it that much can raise as much as they want.”

Carey v. FEC stemmed from a request from retired Rear Adm. James Carey and the National Defense PAC to solicit and spend both soft money and hard money in electioneering activities. Collyer sits on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.