Last week, Charlie Harper over at PeachPundit delved into the Georgia Republican Senate Caucus Promotion PAC, which is not a political action committee, but an independent political committee subject to the state’s transparency laws – which have not been met.
Harper reported that the promotion group has spent thousands of dollars sending direct mail into exurban areas of metro Atlanta on behalf of several state senators with Republican primary challengers: Majority Leader Chip Rogers of Woodstock, Bill Heath of Bremen, and Jack Murphy of Cumming. Wrote Harper:
Michael Luethy, a North Carolina political consultant is registered as the agent for the PAC, using a UPS Mailbox store address in Grayson Georgia as the address of the PAC. Luthy’s name is the full extent of “transparency” that these Senate incumbents have chose to express over these mailpieces.
On Friday, three Republican senate leaders – Rogers, Bill Cowsert of Athens, and Greg Goggans of Douglas – sent out an email with an explanation:
I hope everyone is having a great summer.
Last September at Barnsley Gardens, the Caucus unanimously agreed to use Senate Republican Trust resources to assist our caucus members who received primary opposition. In the past we have used the Trust to fund our incumbent protection program by making contributions to the State GOP, which would then send mail pieces on behalf of our members facing opposition in the General Election. The State Party is hesitant to engage in Republican Primary contests. Therefore, we have elected to utilize an independent entity to assist in the defense of our caucus members facing primaries.
The decision was made to accept a proposal from a highly experienced political consultant outside the state to protect our fellow Senators.
His name is Michael Luethy. He is the former political director for the RSLC, the national committee that assists state legislative caucuses. He has run programs like this all over the country to build and protect Republican majorities. He is based in North Carolina and is highly regarded by legislative leaders across the country. His mission was to help any and all caucus members who received primary opposition.
We gave him a block grant of funding to his independent committee and trusted him to maximize those dollars to help our incumbents. We provided him with of legislative accomplishments from the past 2 years and the names of Caucus members facing primary opposition. We have had no further contact with him as this is an independent group and we are not allowed to coordinate efforts with him. He has not coordinated with any Senator or campaign committees in any way on this project.
Going the route of funding an independent committee was the only legal mechanism available to use to protect our incumbents. This is completely legal and does not violate any finance campaign laws.
Please read the comments from Rick Thompson, former head of the State Ethics Commission on the GaPundit.com blog if you would like confirmation of this.
This kind of effort is exactly what our Trust is for and we should be even more aggressive in the future to protect any and all members of our caucus.
If asked by the media, this is the prepared response we will provide.
“The Georgia Republican Senate Caucus supports and protects our fellow members. With no direct manner to individually support our members, we have supported an independent campaign committee created by Michael Luethy. Michael has a long track record in Republican politics that we trust. He set up this Committee to help protect our Republican Senate colleagues. We have every reason to trust he will do all that is possible to protect and support our Caucus members during any challenge to re-election. No caucus member has coordinated efforts in any way with Michael or his committee.”
Additionally, if you have not reached out to your fellow caucus members that have opposition, I am sure they would appreciate any support you can give them. Below is a list of caucus members with opposition and their mailing address if you would like to contribute to their campaign. Despite our occasional differences, membership in our caucus is special and important. Our unity is our strength and we should support each other in our times of need. I hope you will join me in supporting our colleagues.
[The letter names senators Don Balfour of Snellville, Cecil Staton of Macon, Rogers, Johnny Grant of Milledgeville, Murphy, Heath, and Frank Ginn of Danielsville.]
If you have any further questions or if we can help you with anything please reach out to us.
Bill, Chip & Greg
You’ll note that the letter is worded less for senators and more for members of what once was called the state ethics commission. One GOP strategist we’ve talked to noted that positive mail flyers from the campaigns of Rogers, Heath and Murphy have been awfully scarce. That gap has been instinctively filled by this independent group, which has in no way been in any contact whatsoever with these lawmakers.
Except for giving this fellow a check, assigning the targets, and supplying the message, I mean. Because that would be wrong.
Here’s a definition offered up by the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission:
An Independent Committee is one that makes “independent expenditures”. An independent expenditure is an expenditure for a communication which expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, but which is made independently of any candidate’s campaign. An expenditure is “independent” only if it meets certain conditions; It cannot be made with the cooperation or consent of, or in consultation with, or at the request or suggestion of any candidate or any of his or her agents or authorized committees. An expenditure which does not meet the above criteria for independence is considered a contribution which is subject to limits.
One complaint has already been filed with the ethics commission. I think we can expect more.
One more note: About that endorsement from ethics expert Rick Thompson mentioned in the senators’ email. Todd Rehm of GeorgiaPundit.com this morning wrote this:
I failed to make clear that Thompson’s quote was a general statement on the laxity of PAC regulation in the state Act governing campaign finance, but was not meant to state a position on whether the transfer from the Senate Trust to the Promotion PAC was in compliance with the Act. It certainly did not state that Rick Thompson had said the transfer from the Senate Republican Trust to the Georgia Republican Senate Caucus Promotion PAC is okay. That statement was about the general lack of regulation of committee-to-committee transfers.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider