Former Campaign Manager Pleads Guilty To SuperPAC Spending : It's All Politics Tyler Harber admitted that he had his superPAC spend $325,000 to attack a Democratic candidate. It's the Justice Department's first prosecution of this kind.
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Former Campaign Manager Pleads Guilty To SuperPAC Spending

This case is the Justice Department's first prosecution based on the coordination provisions of campaign finance law. They've been on the books, in different forms, for decades. J. David Ake/AP hide caption

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J. David Ake/AP

This case is the Justice Department's first prosecution based on the coordination provisions of campaign finance law. They've been on the books, in different forms, for decades.

J. David Ake/AP

A veteran political consultant has pleaded guilty to violating the little-enforced coordination provisions of campaign finance law, which bar a candidate's campaign and an outside group from working together on messages and expenditures.

The case involves the unsuccessful House bid of Republican Chris Perkins in 2012. He was challenging Democratic incumbent Gerry Connolly in the suburbs of Northern Virginia.

Perkins' campaign manager was consultant Tyler Harber, who also was operating a superPAC, the National Republican Victory Fund (no relation to the Republican National Committee). Appearing Thursday in federal district court in Alexandria, Va., Harber admitted that he had the superPAC spend $325,000 to attack Connolly.

It didn't help. Connolly beat Perkins, 61 to 36 percent. Perkins spent $531,424, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Harber also pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents. No one else was charged.

So this appears to be an old case, of a failed campaign and a superPAC that, from FEC filings, appears to be fading away.

Why is it news?

First, it's the Justice Department's first prosecution based on the coordination provisions. They've been on the books, in different forms, for decades.

Second, the rise of superPACs since the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010 has radically changed federal campaigns. Candidates routinely benefit from officially independent, walled-off superPACs focused exclusively on their election: Priorities USA Action for President Obama and Restore Our Future for Mitt Romney in 2012, for example. Not-yet candidates for 2016 have their own crop: Jeb Bush's Right To Rise, Rick Santorum's Red, White and Blue Fund, Rand Paul's America's Liberty and others.

It's important because candidates' campaigns operate under strict contribution limits — this cycle, $2,700 per donor per election — while superPACs have no limits at all. Some superPACs score multi-million-dollar contributions.

Candidates find ways of telegraphing their needs to friendly superPACs. Remember the "McConnelling" from last year? The Mitch McConnell campaign released b-roll, which made it easier for an outside group to make a pro-McConnell TV spot. This year, candidates who haven't yet declared don't have to worry about a coordination hurdle.

The Harber prosecution delighted critics of the system. Activist Fred Wertheimer, who has been in two lawsuits challenging the Federal Election Commission's coordination rules, predicted the case will have a chilling effect going into the 2016 presidential contest.

Politicians and consultants have "been walking around knowing they can do what they want with coordination, and face no consequences," he said. "Now at least you have the potential of a criminal prosecution.

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