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Trevor Potter Quoted in Bloomberg, Super PACs Echo Parodies

February 13, 2012, Politico
Excerpt taken from article.

When it comes to Super PACs, it's getting hard to tell the difference between reality and a Comedy Central bit.

Stephen Colbert made an ongoing gag last month out of lampooning the rules barring coordination between outside groups and campaigns. When he announced a plan to run for president, he made a big show of handing off his super PAC to his fellow Comedy Central host Jon Stewart. Stewart promised not to coordinate with Colbert — giving the camera a wink and a nod.

But it was no joke last week when President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney cleared their top aides to raise cash for the Super PACs supporting their campaign.

Meanwhile, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, whose family has pumped $11 million into the Super PAC boosting Newt Gingrich's campaign, sat in on a meeting of the campaign's national finance committee at one of his Las Vegas hotels this month. He also met privately with both Gingrich and Romney.

And Rick Santorum took the podium at the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend after a warm introduction from his friend Foster Friess, a Wyoming multimillionaire who's given hundreds of thousands of dollars to two Super PACs credited with Santorum's surge.

Friess has become part of Santorum's campaign inner circle, traveling with the candidate on the trail and participating in sensitive conversations about campaign advertising. Santorum told reporters last week that Friess is "someone who I talk to, who gives me plenty of advice on how I say it and what I say."

The law couldn't be more clear: campaigns aren't supposed to communicate strategy or coordinate spending with their Super PAC supporters. And all the candidates claim they're not doing anything wrong — Santorum insists super PACs don't come up in his chats with Freiss, and representatives for Gingrich, Romney and Obama all say they're not breaking the rules either.

It looks like they'll get the last laugh, since there's no sign of serious legal or technical challenges to the brazen behavior that might force campaigns or Super PACs to reverse course before Election Day.

"It sounds to me as if the current – admittedly inadequate – rules are being bent or broken, especially when persons responsible for [Super PAC ads] are also traveling with the candidates and/or advising them," said Trevor Potter, a former Federal Election Commission chairman who was the top lawyer for John McCain's Republican presidential campaigns, which discouraged outside spending groups.

It's a bit of life imitating art for Potter, who has been participating in the ongoing Colbert-Stewart gag on their late-night shows. Colbert's faux pundit character has talked about the "loopchasms" in the coordination restrictions and it's not hard to imagine him devising a scenario like the Friess-Santorum talks.

Click here to read the article about the role of Super PACs in the upcoming presidential election.

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