A pair of mysterious pop-up super PACs, one with Republican roots and another tied to Democrats, spent more than $3 million in hopes of swaying West Virginia’s GOP Senate primary while keeping their donor lists hidden from voters until after the election. The groups arrived on the scene with blurry names, like “Mountain Families PAC,” but blunt intentions: to quietly use truckloads of outside money to feather their political beds ahead of the November general election. By the time their donors were revealed a few days ago, the primary felt like a distant memory. To do this, the PACs used legal tactics that were nonetheless designed to defy the spirit of current campaign finance law, campaign finance experts say.
The play, which experts warn could set a roadmap for other groups seeking to avoid politically damaging disclosures, is actually pretty simple. Both the Mountain Families PAC and the “Duty & Country PAC” switched their FEC reporting schedules in the run-up to the vote, allowing them to delay making public the sources of their millions until after the primary, rendering the new information useless to voters who had cast their ballot nearly two weeks earlier.
“With these kind of campaign finance shenanigans, once the dam breaks, you can expect to see a flood of similar conduct,” said Brendan Fischer of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Campaign Legal Center. “Once one political operative figures out how to get around the law, you see others following suit.”