Philly ethics board considers tightening PAC loophole

The Philadelphia Board of Ethics is looking at a proposal to tighten campaign finance rules in the city.

Political action committees known as “super PACs” can spend as much money as they want in federal elections, as long as they do not coordinate with a campaign or directly contribute to it. This has resulted in some candidates posting B-roll footage of themselves onto YouTube, which super PACs then turn around and use in political advertisements.

For instance, in the 2014 primary race for the 13th Congressional District in Pennsylvania, a labor-affiiated super PAC used footage from YouTube, which was posted by Rep. Brendan Boyle’s campaign for Congress, in a supportive TV ad (see video above).

The city’s ethics board is considering changing its regulations so that type of activity would be seen as “coordinating.” The ad would then be considered an in-kind contribution, subject to the city’s annual limit of $11,500 for PACs and $2,900 for individuals. PACS that utilize campaign-made videos, photos or fliers would also fall under the rule.

“We’re trying to stay ahead of the game in terms of efforts to circumvent the contribution limits,” said Shane Creamer, executive director of the ethics board. “And this is a growing trend around the country that we’re seeing.”

Under the proposal, news media and a candidate’s opponents would not be seen as making in-kind contributions if they use campaign videos.

Creamer said a legal challenge is possible, but he believes the ethics board would prevail in such a situation. A public hearing for the proposed change is scheduled for September.

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