Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 30, 2014

How Candidates Share Without Coordinating With Outside Groups

With each passing election cycle, both parties are figuring out new ways to skirt campaign finance laws.

A couple years ago, I wrote about how the official and independent expenditure wings of the campaign committees share opposition research and message points through less-traveled regions of the Web. That “IE Strategy Borders on Art Form” might be worth a second glance as the cycle heats up.

Some candidates are also conveniently sharing video footage for potential use by independent groups for television ads through links that are sometimes difficult to find unless you know where to look.

For example, Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley is running for the open Senate seat in Iowa. BruceBraley.com/video includes a trio of b-roll videos, but the webpage is found only by a small link at the bottom of the main page.

Need video of Braley talking with old people? No problem. There’s “Bruce Braley Stands With Iowa Seniors” — one minute and 23 seconds of gripping b-roll of the congressman with senior citizens layered with smooth elevator music, unencumbered by audio of Braley or a narrator actually talking.

What about the congressman talking with ladies? Got it. “Bruce Braley Will Still Stand Up for Women in Iowa” contains one minute and 16 seconds of fantastic footage — again, without any graphics or audio, other than music.

And finally, what about Braley wearing a blue hard hat or walking in a field with a farmer? Done. “Bruce Braley Will Fight for America’s Workers” is one minute and 51 seconds of raw, blue-collar footage of the attorney mingling with regular folk.

On Jan. 28, Senate Majority PAC, the super PAC dedicated to keeping Democratic control of the Senate, started airing “Oil Billionaires” to boost Braley’s candidacy. The statewide broadcast and cable ad cost approximately $240,000 through Feb. 6 and included footage also seen in the b-roll videos.

According to the stamps on YouTube, the b-roll videos were uploaded on Jan. 30, after the Senate Majority PAC ad began, so the footage was likely taken from a two-minute Web video for the congressman’s re-election campaign in 2012. But it is no accident that the longer clips are available going forward.

According to one opposition researcher, outside groups usually don’t need the footage of the candidate because they are usually busy attacking the opponent. But this cycle, some Democrats might need help boosting their positive ratings, and quality footage of the candidate is harder to come by without the ability to coordinate.

Braley isn’t the only candidate making his b-roll conveniently available.

In North Carolina, b-roll of Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan can be found on her campaign site using a similar URL pattern: KayHagan.com/video.

Two minutes of b-roll footage and music that might remind you of your last filling are available for download, including the senator casually leaning on the back of an old Ford truck talking to two dudes.

And in Alaska, “Mark Begich’s Home” might look like a biographical and educational Web video. But again, it’s just three minutes and 55 seconds of the senator talking with people and picturesque views of the Last Frontier — no talking, just music, at a similar URL. There is also bright red type to instruct viewers that a HD download of the video is possible.

According to a couple of partisan strategists, these videos are a natural step in the proliferation of outside groups and outside spending. Senate contests are increasingly saturated with negative ads, so the only alternative is to begin airing positive spots as well.

“Doing positive ads isn’t as easy,” according to one GOP operative, who explained that negative ads can be done with still shots but effective positive ads require “some nice imagery.” That often isn’t available without the ability to coordinate with the candidate or found by scouring the Internet, unless the candidate makes it publicly and strategically available.

Thus far, it appears that Republicans haven’t adopted a similar strategy.

Of course, video sharing isn’t the only instance of candidates and campaign committees sharing with outside groups and independent expenditure units.

In the run-up to the March 11 special election in Florida’s 13th District, the National Republican Congressional Committee has made available a large amount of opposition research against Democrat Alex Sink at DemocratFacts.org. Anybody can download b-roll of Sink, highlighted news stories that could be used against the Democrat, direct-mail pieces and high-resolution photos. This is the same orphan site the NRCC has used the past few years to make opposition research books available in the most competitive races.

Democrats are disseminating their research against Republican David Jolly in the same way they have the past few years. By making a few clicks into the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s main site, you’ll find tracking footage as well as the full 123-page research book on Jolly ready for download.

While all of this might be new to political observers, this isn’t new to party operatives. Both Republicans and Democrats have staff trained to search these sites daily (at least) in search of new information. And by the time most attack ads hit the airwaves, they aren’t even a surprise.

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