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Government & Politics

DOJ Bouncers Eye Conservatives

A new crackdown on campaign finance coordination is in the works.

Lewis Morris · Mar. 17, 2015

The Justice Department recently announced plans to crack down on campaign finance coordination between candidates and outside groups. Not satisfied with the job the Federal Election Commission is doing to keep candidates from leveraging independent political groups, Justice said it will investigate such cases and “aggressively pursue coordination offenses at every appropriate opportunity.”

The Wall Street Journal explains, “Under federal law, a campaign expenditure is illegally coordinated when it meets certain tests for content and conduct. The content of an ad must either advocate for a candidate or mention the candidate by name in the 60 days before a general election. The conduct amounts to illegal coordination if there is material involvement or substantial discussion between a [political action committee] and a candidate regarding that election-related content.”

Proving coordination can be difficult, but starting an investigation can be alarmingly easy. All that’s needed is an allegation that two people talked who shouldn’t have – then government lawyers can come in and comb through files, computer drives and bank accounts with the full power of the FBI behind them.

Is there really a rash of corrupt coordination taking place between political candidates and PACs? What kind of widespread corruption would warrant the Justice Department taking such sweeping actions? “The opportunity to commit crime has increased dramatically,” said DOJ spokesman Peter Carr. Oh, the opportunity. But what about actual crime?

Well, the total number of such cases DOJ opened since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling on campaign finance has plummeted, as has the total amount of fines collected. According to the DOJ’s statist mindset, that could only mean missed opportunities to shakedown political opponents.

GOP members of the FEC claim the lower number of investigations indicates people are following the rules, though Democrat members believe Republicans must be getting away with something. You can imagine which side the DOJ will come down on.

Richard Pilger, head of the DOJ’s Election Crimes Branch, supports pursuing coordination investigations. The outcome of an FEC investigation could lead to fines or even jail time.

Incidentally, Pilger was the DOJ official who in 2010 reached out to the IRS’s Lois Lerner – remember her? – about prosecuting nonprofits that engaged in fraud on their tax returns. Lerner ended up sharing protected taxpayer data on a number of nonprofit groups – coincidentally, all of them supported conservative causes. Talk about coordination.

In fact, Barack Obama’s 2012 election victory could largely be attributable to the IRS’s targeting of his political opponents.

Lerner’s activity and the DOJ’s open-ended persecution of political groups are both far bigger threats to free political speech than any phone call or backroom meeting between a candidate and a PAC. The government, whether it’s through the IRS or the Justice Department, bullies organizations into silence by tangling them in bureaucratic red tape, threatening jail or fines, or simply gumming up the works with extended investigations. And it’s no coincidence that a vast majority of these organizations fall on the opposite side of the political spectrum than the White House, Lerner or Pilger. The Left hates free political speech coming from the Right. And leftists will use any available tool to silence it.

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