FEC Complaint Cites Crossroads GPS’ Anti-Kaine Ads

Karl Rove

Crossroads GPS’ ads accusing Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine of “massive spending” are the subject of a complaint to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

A public interest group — Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) — filed the complaint, charging that Crossroads GPS, headed by GOP political operative Karl Rove, failed to report television advertisements it ran against Kaine and two other Democratic Senate candidates.

None of the candidates has held public office in years, yet the Crossroads GPS ads urge voters to contact the candidates and tell them to support or oppose policies they have no role in making.  Crossroads GPS is trying to treat these ads as “issue ads” that do not need to be reported to the FEC, but all of them clearly are political, CREW charged.

“Crossroads GPS wants to have its cake and eat it too.  Karl Rove’s secretive 501(c)(4) wants to run political ads without complying with the disclosure rules applicable to such ads,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan.  “By disguising political ads as issue ads, Crossroads is trying to do an end run around the law.”

Besides Kaine, Crossroads GPS has run the ads against Democratic Senate candidates Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and  Bob Kerrey of Nebraska. Federal election law requires any person or group that makes an independent expenditure advocating the election or defeat of a candidate to file reports about the spending with the FEC.  By not filing any such reports, Crossroads GPS violated the law, CREW argued.

Crossroads GPS has a strong incentive to avoid having these ads labeled as independent expenditures, the complaint alleges.  To maintain its tax-exempt status as a “social welfare” organization, Crossroads GPS cannot make politics its primary activity.  Because the Internal Revenue Service considers independent expenditures political activity, Crossroads GPS needs as many of its ads as possible to be treated as non-political issue ads.

“Obviously, these candidates can’t vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act or decrease the budget deficit. Pretending these ads are not political makes a mockery of federal election and tax law,” continued Ms. Sloan.  “Then again, making a mockery of the FEC is redundant.”

“Last week, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS added to their barrage of false, negative ads with a new spot attacking Tim Kaine for ‘massive spending,’ citing two examples,” Kaine spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said last week in an email to reporters.  “Let’s set aside that Politifact and FactCheck.org have already ruled that both examples Crossroads cites are false, distorted claims. Because as it turns out, Crossroads seems to agree that their ad’s claims are untrue. … [W]hen the organization was pressed by Politifact on their back-up, a spokesman claimed the ad never intended to imply Governor Kaine supported these projects. Apparently voters are supposed to disregard the fact that their ad gives exactly that impression,” Hoffine said.