WASHINGTON — Georgia Republicans have filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff, arguing that attacks on Republican incumbent David Perdue by Ossoff’s campaign and a super PAC supporting him are similar and are evidence of coordination.
But one campaign legal expert says the complaint resembles ones that the FEC previously dismissed, based on exceptions related to using publicly available information sources.
Ossoff, who is challenging Perdue in one of two runoff elections in Georgia that will determine political control of the U.S. Senate, has criticized Perdue’s record of trading stocks throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Perdue has been one of the most active traders on Capitol Hill, according to the New York Times, which reported that his trades prompted a Department of Justice investigation.
Super PACs supporting Ossoff and Democrat Raphael Warnock, who is challenging GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler, have hammered both incumbents over their stock trades, flooding the airwaves with millions of dollars in attack ads since the general election last month.
The FEC complaint filed Sunday by the Georgia Republican Party alleges a late November super PAC ad goes too far in aligning messages between candidates and super PACs, which are barred from coordinating. The ad is from The Georgia Way, one of two new super PACs affiliated with the Senate Majority PAC, run by allies of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.).
The complaint points to a mid-November memo released by Ossoff’s campaign, accusing Perdue of profiting from the pandemic. It linked to news articles with Perdue’s comments downplaying risks related to COVID-19 and to coverage of his controversial stock trades.
Several weeks later, The Georgia Way super PAC released an ad titled, “Cashed In,” which leveled similar attacks on Perdue. It cited one of the radio interviews linked in the Ossoff campaign’s memo.
“Based on the timing, messaging, conduct, and context of the campaign update and the advertisement, Jon Ossoff for Senate is coordinating its message against Senator Perdue,” said Stewart Bragg, executive director for the Georgia GOP.
A spokesman for Ossoff did not provide a comment in response to questions about the FEC complaint.
The complaint comes after Ossoff was alone on stage Sunday at what’s expected to be the only debate before Georgia voters return to the polls on Jan. 5, after Perdue declined to participate.
If the memo was intended to help guide supportive super PACs, the strategy is one that one campaign legal expert says is unlikely to draw action from federal election regulators.
Brendan Fischer, director for the federal reform program at the D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center, said outside groups like super PACs can only raise and spend unlimited amounts of money if they are independent of the candidates they support.
If a campaign suggests that a super PAC use specific themes, that could be considered coordination, Fischer said. But there’s an exception if the super PAC develops its ads based on information from a public source, and the FEC has dismissed complaints alleging coordination based on similarities between the information posted on a candidate’s website and a subsequent ad from a super PAC, he added.
“I don’t expect that the FEC would look on [this complaint] any more favorably,” Fischer said.
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