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Super PACs picking up the tab for campaign activities

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Campaigns, especially presidential campaigns, are pretty expensive to run. The campaign of former Texas governor and two-time presidential hopeful Rick Perry is feeling the pinch, suspending pay for his staff due to low funds.

Perry actually has about $17 million in support, but it’s locked up in super PACs that are not allowed to coordinate directly with his campaign. But even without coordinating with the campaign, super PACs supporting Perry and other candidates are still doing a lot of the work of the 2016 campaign. 

“There’s essentially not much a super PAC couldn’t do, other than things that would require direct coordination with the candidate or their staff,” says Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics.

Super PACs can run TV ads, print fliers and even campaign door to door. Plenty of critics say that’s too much outside influence.

But lawyer Cleta Mitchell of the law firm Foley & Lardner says Perry’s financial woes reveal a different problem. She’s represented Republican campaigns and super PACs in the past, and says current campaign finance limits are unrealistic for modern presidential campaigns. “It makes it very difficult to fund increasingly expensive campaigns,” she says, “particularly national campaigns.”

Stefan Passantino is a partner with the law firm Dentons and the treasurer for the Opportunity and Freedom PAC, which has more than $10 million ready to back Perry.
“The super PAC is allowed to do all of the traditional activities of a campaign, other than pay for the staff and pay directly for the travel of the candidate,” he says.

Passantino says with the new political reality, campaigns don’t need big staffs anymore — just enough to do what’s legally required.

“But that can be done on a fairly lean and mean basis,” he says.

And the Perry campaign is working out just how lean it can be.

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