This weekend, Mitt Romney and his campaign will host a retreat for top $100,000-and-up campaign bundlers and donors at a Park City, Utah resort. The event, dubbed the “First National Romney Victory Leadership Retreat,” will reportedly be an opportunity for “strategizing and fraternizing” between those bankrolling the campaign and those running it.
But one name has raised flags for campaign finance watchdogs. A Saturday panel on “media insight” will feature American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS co-founder Karl Rove. The Crossroads reportedly plan to spend a stunning $300 million to help Romney defeat President Barack Obama this November, but they are legally prohibited from coordinating this effort with Romney’s campaign.
Back in December, Romney decried the rise of Super PACs like Rove’s American Crossroads, saying they have been a “disaster” for the political system. He said at the time:
Super PACs have to be entirely separate from a campaign and a candidate. I’m not allowed to communicate with a super PAC in any way, shape or form… If we coordinate in any way whatsoever, we go to the big house.
Mary Boyle, vice president for communications at Common Cause, told ThinkProgress that having one of the leaders of an allied Super PAC at at campaign event with major donors “seems to make a mockery of the rule that bans coordination between a super PAC and a candidate.”
Tara Malloy, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center agreed that this presents appearance issues, but would probably not violate any coordination rules. She told ThinkProgress that “the coordination rule is a pretty slim reed between candidates and the SuperPACs that support those candidates. It’s not by any means and airtight barrier between those two.” In order to violate the rules, a candidate would have to have a “substantial discussion” about the Super PAC’s advertising strategies — something Romney and Rove are unlikely to do at this retreat.
“The scandal in Washington,” Malloy observed, “is what is legal, not what’s illegal.” As such, while Romney’s inclusion of Rove at the event open him up to questions of judgment and hypocrisy, is unlikely either will end up in the “big house.”