Iowa Democrat Theresa Greenfield has pledged to stop "coordination" between campaigns and outside groups if elected to the Senate, but it appears Greenfield herself has already violated that pledge.
Greenfield's candidacy received a boost earlier this week when the Senate Majority PAC (SMP), the super PAC responsible for electing the Democratic establishment's preferred Senate candidates, announced it would pour $1 million into ads backing Greenfield. One SMP ad mirrors the subject matter of a document that Greenfield's campaign uploaded as an "important update" just weeks prior. The ad also uses footage that the campaign website linked alongside the document, raising concerns from ethics watchdogs that Greenfield illegally coordinated with the super PAC.
Greenfield has positioned herself on the front lines of ending political corruption in her quest to unseat Republican senator Joni Ernst this November. As part of her platform, Greenfield released an anti-corruption plan calling for legislation that will "truly" ensure a firewall between campaigns and outside groups to prevent coordination.
"Candidate coordination with outside dark money groups like Iowa Values and Super PACs is illegal—and we must stop campaigns like Senator Ernst's who try to break the law," the plan states. "We need to enact legislation to ensure that these outside groups truly act independently, and not as an arm of any campaign, by banning internal firewalls and preventing overlap between candidates and their agents."
While it is illegal for campaigns to directly coordinate with outside groups, both political parties often utilize workarounds. These workarounds can include a campaign sending subtle signals to outside groups by posting materials in a public space. The outside group might then use the materials and subject matter to create an ad on behalf of the campaign.
The incident sparked concerns that Greenfield's campaign may have used such a workaround. "The coordination between Theresa Greenfield, her campaign, and the Senate Majority PAC is arguably illegal activity," said Kendra Arnold, executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a government watchdog group. "The ‘important update' that Greenfield's campaign posted on its website utilizes the exact same language as other candidates who have ‘requested' ads to run on their behalf via PACs that can raise and spend unlimited funds."
The Senate Majority PAC ran a seven-figure ad in the Hawkeye State on Tuesday. It was SMP's first foray into the Iowa Democratic primary and was used to introduce Greenfield to voters.
"Tough times don't last, but tough people do," the ad's narrator says over B-roll footage of Greenfield. "Theresa Greenfield learned that growing up on her family farm, putting herself through college working part-time jobs. And after a workplace accident took her husband, she raised two boys as a single mom and became president of a local small business. All of it makes Theresa tough enough to take on Washington's corruption and deliver for Iowa."
Greenfield's campaign posted an "important update" on its website roughly a month earlier with two paragraphs on the same subject matter as the 30-second ad. The post contains a link that leads to a short memo and a silent YouTube video of the B-roll footage used in the ad.
"Theresa Greenfield grew up working hard on her family's farm during the farm crisis," the linked document states. "While expecting her second child, Greenfield’s husband, a union electrician, was killed on the job in a tragic accident. Raising two young boys on her own, Social Security was critical to saving her family. She put herself through college working multiple jobs and rose to become the president of a small business. Greenfield is running for U.S. Senate to take on a corrupt Washington. Greenfield refuses corporate PAC money and will fight to protect Social Security and make health care affordable for us."
The post does not contain a date of when it went live. However, the update was captured by Google cache on Feb. 6. The YouTube video was uploaded on Jan. 27. Greenfield released her plan to "end political corruption," which contained a call for legislation to end coordination, just days before the SMP announced the ad buy.
Michael Franken, who is running against Greenfield in Iowa's Democratic primary, criticized the ad buy on Wednesday.
"[Greenfield] just accepted a seven-figure dark money ad buy," Franken said on Twitter. "All candidates in this primary must honor the anti-dark money pledge we signed. @StopBigMoney must hold their candidates accountable & [Greenfield] must denounce corporations and lobbyists in her corner."
When asked for comment, Sam Newton, Greenfield's communications director, said the ad's similarity to campaign materials was a distraction. "These false allegations are an attempt to distract from Senator Ernst's refusal to answer questions about a bombshell Associated Press investigation that showed how she illegally coordinated with a dark money group set up by her own top aides," Newton told the Washington Free Beacon in an emailed statement. "Theresa has a plan to ban corporate PACs and dark money, while Senator Ernst has only made the political corruption in Washington worse."
Newton was referring to a December AP story that raised questions about an outside group's closeness to Ernst's reelection efforts.
The SMP shares staff and office space with Majority Forward, a dark money group which in January 2019 announced plans to target Ernst. Majority Forward has paid the SMP $1.7 million for its shared staff and office space in recent years.
Greenfield's campaign has also taken more than $150,000 from Democratic leadership PACs which take money from committees associated with corporations. Greenfield's campaign document states the candidate "refuses corporate PAC money."
The SMP did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Greenfield is the Democratic establishment's preferred candidate to face Ernst in the general election. The Senate race is expected to be one of the most competitive and expensive in the country.