End of Campaign Means Rick Santorum Could Grab Hold of Super PAC

May 10, 2012 6:00am

Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum put out a statement blasting President Obama’s decision to support same-sex marriage Wednesday.

Although his thoughts on the topic were not unusual, the group it came from was not the old Rick Santorum for President organization. Instead, it came from the Red, White, and Blue Fund, the pro-Santorum super PAC.

That’s because the super PAC is becoming Santorum’s PAC, while also remaining his super PAC. Yes, it’s confusing, but it’s a legal change that turns the Red, White, and Blue Fund into a hybrid political action committee that will also work as a traditional leadership PAC to push Santorum’s message, support his political travel, cover administration costs and donate money to candidates he supports with similar views.

There is one key change on the super PAC side: Now that Santorum is no longer a candidate or office-holder, he can coordinate with his super PAC, whereas that was forbidden when he was running for public office.

Much like one wallet with two different credit cards, the fund will have one name and one staff, but two bank accounts. The hybrid PAC will make individual expenditures on behalf of candidates, which means, like Mitt Romney’s super PAC, it can run ads or drop mail on behalf of a candidate, but cannot coordinate with that candidate. It can also take in unlimited donations.

The fund will also work as a traditional leadership PAC, which will push Santorum’s message and political agenda whether he is espousing it or whether conservative candidates he supports are doing so.

The super PAC will still not be able to pay off Santorum’s campaign debt, but the PAC will be able to donate $5,000 to his effort. This is one of the major differences between the two accounts. The super PAC can accept unlimited donations while the regular PAC can only accept $5,000 per calendar year from individuals.

The hybrid is in it’s very early stages. Even longtime Santorum adviser John Brabender said he doesn’t have all the details yet.

“We are still concentrating on winding down everything associated with the campaign,” Brabender said. “That [Red, White, and Blue Fund] will be part of what Rick is involved in, but it will just be one part. In a sense, the PAC will help other candidates and, certainly, Rick will play a role in which of those candidates Rick will help.”

The Red, White, and Blue Fund’s attorney, Jason Torchinsky, described the change as similar to the state and federal political action committees Mitt Romney had before he launched his presidential campaign.

So, is this the future of campaign finance?

Anthony Corrado, a campaign finance expert and professor at Colby College, believes so.

“What we have now with the new Santorum version is rather than maintaining two administrative structures,” Corrado said, “they [are] just having one PAC with two different bank accounts. And I expect we will see more of this as the learning curve on the new PAC possibilities develops.’

Corrado added: “It’s just another example of the types of adaptations rapidly taking place, providing political actors with means of using unlimited funds in a variety of ways.”

Hybrid PACs became legal last year following the federal Carey v. Federal Election Commission decision that legalized them for committees not tied to unions or corporations.

Corrado pointed out it’s legal because Santorum is no longer a “current federal candidate or office holder.”

Is it possible that Newt Gingrich’s super PAC “Winning Our Future” will go this same route?

The group’s spokesman, Rick Tyler, told ABC News, “We are looking at multiple options.”

When asked if Santorum’s example was one of the scenarios they were looking at, Tyler said, “Correct,” and noted he will have more to announce “fairly soon.”

“Our senior leadership will decide where we want to go by next week,” Tyler said, adding, “It’s all new.”

“Winning Our Future” had $5 million in its coffers just last month. In comparison, the Red, White, and Blue Fund only had $262,949 as of the same date.

Although the one-group-one-staff approach would seem to make it confusing, with risks of coordination or mistakes to be made, Torchinsky said the staffs could be kept separate. He spoke hypothetically because the groups are in the very beginning of planning for the new hybrid.

“Hypothetically, these people are doing independent expenditures, and these people are interacting the candidates,” Torchinsky said, referring to the staffs who will work on both the PAC and the super PAC. “And you can firewall them off. The super PAC staff would not use information gained from candidates. … It’s a perfectly acceptable way to do it.”

Although it may look like another example of campaign finance gone wild, Corrado agreed that the “two accounts” keep the two PACs separate.

“The two accounts ensures that won’t happen,” Corrado said, referring to coordination or confusion. “It’s not that difficult to maintain if on the super PAC side you are essentially taking in larger sums and you are spending larger sums.”

Corrado said there will be similar activity “particularly by PACs associated with individuals or organizations that want to play a major role intervening in congressional elections.”

“To the extent a PAC wants to be involved in a congressional election, a super PAC is the best option,” Corrado said. “It’s much easier getting one Foster Friess check than 2,000 $500 checks or 200 $5,000 checks.”

Friess is the multimillion-dollar former mutual fund manager and main donor to the Red, White, and Blue Fund. He did not return calls seeking comment on the new hybrid political action committee.

It’s clear that despite no definite announcement of plans yet, The Red, White, and Blue Fund is essential to Santorum’s next venture.

In an email sent to supporters Wednesday evening (from Rick Santorum for President, not the RWB Fund), Santorum promised a “big announcement.” Santorum wrote that he will “soon be sharing with you exactly how we can play a major role in defeating Obama, elect[ing] trusted conservatives all around the country, and hold[ing] candidates accountable to the promises they make to us at election time.”

So when will those plans be announced?

“The next couple of weeks; relatively soon,” Brabender said.

ABC News’ Elizabeth Hartfield contributed to this report. 

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