Who Is Politician's Shadowy PAC Donor? Her Mom.

There's a political action committee in Washington state that has just one source of funds — the mother of the candidate. Laura Ruderman, who is running in the First Congressional District, says she had no idea her mom was funding the PAC which is planning TV ads attacking her opponent's business record.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In this post-Citizens United era, it's legal for PACs to spend as much money as they want to to help a candidate - that is, as long as they don't coordinate with the candidate. But sometimes it can be hard to believe a PAC and a campaign are independent from one another, especially when the money comes from the candidate's mom.

NPR's Martin Kaste reports from Seattle.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: If you're running for office, it's never a bad idea to remind voters that you have a mother.

MARGARET ROTHSCHILD: Hi. My name is Margaret and I'm one of the luckiest people I know.

KASTE: This is a video from the website of Laura Ruderman, a candidate in the Democratic primary in Washington state's 1st Congressional District, but this isn't just another mom video.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

ROTHSCHILD: I have cancer, a very rare and aggressive cancer called thymic carcinoma.

KASTE: Ruderman has made her mother's illness the centerpiece of her latest TV ad, saying it's strengthened her resolve to defend President Obama's health care law.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

LAURA RUDERMAN: My mom calls it her dance with cancer and it's lasted two years longer than we thought possible. I approve this message for her.

KASTE: So far, so poignant, but as it now turns out, Mom has also been doing some political messaging for her daughter. New information from the Federal Election Commission reveals that Margaret Rothschild is funding mailings that attack one of her daughter's main rivals, Suzan DelBene.

SUZAN DELBENE: I'm disappointed that one of my opponents and her associates are using Karl Rove-style superPAC tactics to put out false accusations on my campaign.

KASTE: The mailings accuse DelBene, a former Microsoft executive, of being a business failure and causing layoffs. They were sent out by a PAC called Progress for Washington, a PAC funded primarily by Ruderman's mother - to the tune of $115,000. DelBene challenges her opponent to disavow the ads.

DELBENE: She has not stood up and denounced this activity and so she has the opportunity to do that and she has not done that yet.

KASTE: As one might expect, Ruderman has not denounced her own mother. In a written statement, she says she just found out about her mom's PAC activities, but she also says the phenomenon of relatives funding superPACs - her mom is not the only example - shows, quote, "how broken our campaign finance system is."

Her mother couldn't be reached, but the Seattle Times quotes a written statement saying she was frustrated by the wealth of her daughter's opponent and, as she made plain in her video, Rothschild is nothing if not a supportive mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

ROTHSCHILD: I've also been reminded through this illness what an extraordinary daughter I have and that's really why I wanted to talk with you today.

KASTE: Candidates aren't allowed to coordinate with superPACs, but it's not clear whether that band covers a plea of, Mom, knock it off.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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