The Democratic Party is directing millions of extra dollars to its House candidates this fall by way of a legal loophole that has helped them bypass the typical limits on coordinated spending between parties and candidates — all while linking some vulnerable Republicans to Donald Trump. Typically, Federal Election Commission regulations limit parties to just $48,100 of spending in direct coordination with most House candidates. But under a decade-old FEC precedent, candidates who word their TV ads a certain way — including references to generic “Democrats” and “Republicans” as well as specific candidates — can split the cost of those ads with their party, even if that means blowing past the normal coordinated spending caps. To date, more than a dozen Democratic challengers are benefiting from such “hybrid” advertising, getting extra hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The technique has been a small but consistent part of Democratic strategy in recent years, but new legal guidance has also allowed Democrats to share costs on ads linking their opponents to Trump on policy.
“You have a historically unpopular Republican presidential nominee, which increases the appeal of doing this sort of thing,” said a Democratic operative. “If you can find a way now that you only have to pay 50 percent of an ad, and link your opponent to Trump, and that makes strategic sense in the district, that’s a no-brainer.”
The cost-sharing has turned into a critical tool for the DCCC, as it suddenly tries to compete in more districts and support little-known challengers made unexpectedly viable by Trump’s late slide.
The ads that qualify for cost-splitting do exactly what Democrats already want to: nationalize House races and try to saddle local candidates — from Iowa to Nevada — with the Republican Party’s general unpopularity. And the influx of funds from the DCCC directly into candidate advertising has helped the party grow the battleground map, even including districts where the candidates themselves are perilously low on cash.