Two conservative groups associated with former Bush adviser Karl Rove raised millions, much of it from undisclosed donors. The two groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, spent more than $175 million on 2012 campaigns. Tony Gutierrez/AP
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The Federal Election Commission deadlocked Thursday on whether wheel-heeled Super PACs can coordinate advertising with candidates.

As The Associated Press reported:

“The commission deadlocked 3-3 along party lines after a lengthy and heated debate over how much coordination between elected officials and super political action committees would be against the rules.

“American Crossroads is the Republican super PAC that sought an opinion from the FEC, following allegations two months ago that Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska unlawfully coordinated with his party on an issue ad. In essence, Crossroads asked whether Nelson could legally produce such an ad and whether it could do the same.”

Coordination is taboo between candidates and these outside groups, and it will continue to be so after the FEC vote. In an election cycle where outside groups will raise far more money than the candidates themselves, the issue is certain to rise again.

“The result of today’s deadlock is that American Crossroads did not get the green light it sought from the FEC to fully coordinate ads with candidates,” said Campaign Legal Center FEC program director Paul S. Ryan. “Instead, any ads run by American Crossroads that feature federal candidates will be subject to legal scrutiny and may be deemed illegal.”

In reality, ads flood the airwaves from outside groups, especially attack ads. The Washington Post reported Thursday that more than $23 million has been spent on negative campaign TV ads already in the 2012 election. Of that amount, the Karl Rove-affiliated American Crossroads and its sister group, Crossroads GPS, accounted for nearly half. The Post analysis also showed that 70 percent of the ads thus far have been negative in nature.

The Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News has produced numerous reports on the outside groups and activities that suggest coordination or at least tight links—mainly on the fundraising side.

  • Last week, the Center reported that lobbyist Tom Loeffler, who briefly chaired the campaign of GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, had quietly moved to a Super PAC that supports Huntsman, to lead its fundraising. Our Destiny PAC in late November then spent an astonishing $1.5 million on ads touting Huntsman in New Hampshire.
  • Similarly, top Romney campaign fundraiser Steve Roche jumped to Restore Our Future to help spearhead the Super PAC’s multimillion-dollar fundraising operation. Romney himself attended a fundraiser for his Super PAC in July in New York. The Romney-affiliated Restore Our Future raised $12.2 million in the first half of this year. By contrast, the Romney campaign itself hauled in $18.3 million during the second quarter, a performance that fell somewhat short of early expectations (yet far exceeded other GOP candidates).
  • Two Democratic groups, Priorities USA Action and Priorities USA, spent $100,000 earlier this fall on ads attacking Republican Mitt Romney, painting a dark picture of “Mitt Romney’s America.” The two groups were created by two former White House aides soon after they left the Obama administration earlier this year.
  • And a rematch in Kentucky’s 6th District, illustrates how outside groups pour millions of dollars into competitive races, in this case for a single seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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