Iowa Dem, Schumer's Super PAC Hit With Illegal Coordination Complaint

Watchdog: Theresa Greenfield signaled ad instructions to Senate Majority PAC

March 9, 2020

A watchdog group hit Iowa Democrat Theresa Greenfield with a complaint alleging her Senate campaign illegally coordinated with a super PAC affiliated with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.).

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) on Monday filed the complaint to the Federal Election Commission. It alleges that Greenfield's campaign and the Senate Majority PAC violated election laws when the super PAC produced a pro-Greenfield television ad that mirrored language from a document the campaign posted to its website several weeks earlier. The ad also used video footage that Greenfield's campaign posted.

"Several federal candidates have used their campaign websites to request outside organizations, with which they are prohibited from coordinating, produce and run television advertisements on their behalf," the complaint states. "The requests are conveyed in a specific format, i.e. using a campaign webpage entitled 'Important Update,' identifying the information with specific 'code words' such as 'Iowa voters need to hear about,' and linking to a PDF document that is designed to provide the information and citations for the substance of the advertisement, which all appear to be in the same format. The purpose and effect are clear: to give specific instructions, information, and graphic campaign materials to outside organizations to run advertisements beneficial to their campaign."

The complaint follows a Washington Free Beacon report that detailed similarities between the information posted on Greenfield's website and the ad from the Schumer-affiliated PAC. The materials, given the production of the ad, appeared to be "signaling" the PAC, according to the complaint.

Around the beginning of February, Greenfield's campaign posted an "Important Update" on its website with information on the candidate that "Iowa voters need to hear about." The Senate Majority PAC announced on Feb. 24 a $1 million ad buy in support of Greenfield in the Hawkeye State. The ad it subsequently produced contained the same subject matter as a memo attached to the "Update" and used B-roll footage from a silent, unlisted YouTube video linked in the memo.

"Under federal law, Senate candidates are prohibited from coordinating with Super PACs such as Senate Majority PAC on advertisements," the complaint states. "Senate Majority PAC is also prohibited from republishing campaign materials, including photographs and video from a campaign committee."

FACT says there is reason to believe the campaign solicited the production of the ad from the PAC, which is an "illegal in-kind contribution in the form of a television advertisement." The watchdog group calls on the commission to take appropriate investigative and enforcement actions to address the "apparent violations."

"There is reason to believe Greenfield and Theresa Greenfield for Iowa solicited and accepted an illegal contribution from Senate Majority PAC by coordinating communications valued at over $1 million," the complaint says. "Facts demonstrating coordination are: Greenfield made the request for the advertisement in a known format designed to convey the request, the request was acted on within a short amount of time, and the advertisement conveyed the requested information and republished the provided campaign materials."

Greenfield, who is backed by Democratic Party establishment figures, has pledged to clean up corruption in Washington. Just days before Senate Majority PAC announced its ad buy, Greenfield released an anticorruption plan that promised to "truly" end illegal coordination between campaigns and outside groups such as super PACs.

"We need to enact legislation to ensure that these outside groups truly act independently, and not as an arm of any campaign," the plan states.

The Democratic primary for Iowa's Senate race will take place on June 2. Greenfield is considered the favorite to win and face Sen. Joni Ernst (R.) in November's general election.