Sen. Jim DeMint's small-donor fundraising group, the Senate Conservatives Fund, has been a highly successful machine for the Greenville Republican, helping to propel DeMint into the position of a major hard-line conservative Tea Party rainmaker and kingmaker.
The SCF has raised more than $17 million for DeMint's brand of hard-core conservatives.
DeMint has cut his personal ties with SCF so that it can create a new offshoot — a "Super PAC" dubbed Senate Conservatives Action. This new Super PAC — which launched with a new website on Monday — will be able to accept unlimited contributions from corporations and individuals. As such, it will be able to spend at will in an effort to remake the Senate and help elect DeMint's brand of staunch conservatives.
But at least one nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog, the Campaign Legal Center, is saying "not so fast." The organization, senior counsel Tara Malloy told Patch, is looking into mounting a legal challenge against DeMint's Super PAC with the Federal Elections Commission.
"The underlying concern that we have is that federal officeholders and candidates are forbidden from essentially raising soft money, unlimited money, in any way," Malloy said.
At stake is undue influence from DeMint, said Malloy. While DeMint has personally removed himself from the PAC, it still would be run by his operatives.
The move could significantly expand DeMint's reach and influence, political observers contend.
“If we’re going to save this country, we have to elect more conservatives to the U.S. Senate,” DeMint said following the Super PAC's formation. “Making the Senate Conservatives Fund independent of me will allow it do even more to elect the kind of leaders we need to repeal Obamacare and balance the budget.”
DeMint's political play could be a matter of legal nuance, or it could be illegal. That's what the Campaign Legal Center is trying to determine as it decides whether to mount a challenge.
Under the rules, DeMint can not ask for money himself, though he can appear at PAC events, including fundraisers. And despite his technical removal from the PAC, big-time donors will still know that it's DeMint's Super PAC, critics contend.
"[Federal officeholders] are prohibited from hosting unlimited amounts of money for other groups. They are forbidden from establishing committees that take in unlimited amounts, and so forth," Malloy said. "And it would seem that DeMint's planned Super Pac would violate this strict prohibition on federal officeholders and candidates in the soft money business."
Added Malloy: "With DeMint, what I think he's doing is cutting ties with his leadership PAC, which then creates his Super PAC. He may think that he's one degree removed from the Super PAC … but our concern is that this independence would be very much superficial. DeMint would still very much be linked to any donor to the Super PAC…. So the concern is that donors would be giving to the Super PAC with the eye to influence DeMint and curry favor with him — and do exactly what the [law] was set up to prevent."
See the Senate Conservative Fund's 2012 list of endorsed candidates.
Read more Patch coverage of Sen. Jim DeMint.