Should Senate Candidates Be Offering Free Scripts to Super PACs?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 28 2014 10:59 AM

Should Senate Candidates Be Offering Free Scripts to Super PACs?

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Jeanne Shaheen unscripted.

Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

First there was "the b-roll scam," the delightful trend of campaigns tossing free, boring video of their candidates onto the Internet just in case some super PAC needed it—and didn't want to, you know, coordinate with a campaign. Now there's the "message" alley-oop—a wonderful little trick in which a campaign puts together a kit in case anyone wants to make an ad out of it. (Reader: Please suggest a better, catchall name for this.)

All credit to the aggressive NRSC and New Hampshire Republicans, who are trying to make it impossible for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to demand a "people's pledge" (no outside spending from PACs) from carpetbagging Senate candidate Scott Brown. Last week they went all Donald Sutherland and screamed at Shaheen for hosting a "message" page on her site. It consisted of boilerplate, words taken from a theoretical campaign ad ("More attack ads. Paid for by the Koch Brothers and their special interest money.") and a Dropbox link to photos of the senator. Republicans were shocked, shocked:

New Hampshire GOP Chairman Jennifer Horn likened the message “script” for a future attack ad paid for by a super PAC.

“Jeanne Shaheen has spent months attacking outside money, but now she is sending thinly veiled smoke signals to Harry Reid begging for help from his outside money SuperPAC. This is another example of the shameless hypocrisy that Granite Staters have unfortunately come to expect from dishonest Washington politicians like Jeanne Shaheen,” said Horn in a statement. “Additionally, Shaheen’s blatant attempt to coordinate with an outside SuperPAC is potentially illegal and raises serious ethical questions about her campaign.”
Shaheen’s camp responded Thursday afternoon, reiterating its position that third party advertising could be eliminated from the campaign if Brown would sign a ‘people’s pledge.’
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It's a classic attack-the-strength move; Brown, not Shaheen, has been the beneficiary of millions of dollars of third-party ads attacking Obamacare. Shaheen wants to tell voters that those AFP ads popping up every week are "paid for by the Koch brothers"? Fine—we'll shame her for wanting cover fire. The issue is downgraded to a "Democrats say, but Republicans argue" mish-mash. It's working well enough in New Hampshire that the NRSC is now shaming Montana Sen. John Walsh for hosting a standard-issue fact-check page on his site, with facts about how much opponent Steve Daines is worth ($9.19 million, the swine!) and what he's voted for. It's an attempt to "subvert campaign finance laws," tweets NRSC spox Brad Dayspring, as the New Hampshire GOP puts together an FEC complaint against Shaheen. The message: Good luck taking the high road on super PACs now. Also, enjoy this six-figure ad buy from American Crossroads.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.